ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York correctional officer accused of sexually harassing an inmate’s girlfriend is still on the job, even after the agency sought to fire him for making crude comments to the woman, brushing up against her and sending her unwanted emails.
The state prison system concluded that correctional officer Peter Welkley’s attempts to hit on the woman caused her emotional distress and endangered the security of the Orleans Correctional Facility in western New York.
An investigation also found that a group of corrections officers beat the inmate, George Wishart, in March 2016 — days after he complained about the emails, according to a final investigative report released in court documents last month from the prison agency’s Office of Special Investigations.
Wishart, who was serving a sentence for robbery, has since been released from prison. He sued the state in March, saying his injuries required two surgeries, one to repair a rotator cuff and stabilize a joint and a second to remove surgical hardware.
Investigators did not conclude the beating was directly tied to Wishart’s complaints about the correction officer’s behavior, but he argued in his lawsuit that it was obvious retaliation.
Wishart says he was kicked, punched in the face, struck in the spine and kneed in the groin. He said one correctional officer told him: “You want to rat on my partner.”
Welkley, who was not present for the assault, remains a correctional officer at Orleans and makes $75,563 a year, according to New York’s prison department.
A lawyer who represented him in an investigative proceeding declined to comment. Attempts to reach Welkley through a phone number associated with his name were not successful. A spokesperson for the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, which is representing Welkley as a state employee in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
“There’s no reason that he should still be working for the department,” said Wishart’s attorney Joshua Moskovitz.
During an interview with state investigators in 2016, Welkley acknowledged he reached out to the inmate’s girlfriend after meeting her during her visits to the prison, but said the woman initiated the contact by giving him her email address, according to a transcript of his testimony.
“I kept the email address that she gave me. I knew it was wrong,” he said. Welkley emailed the woman later to ask why she hadn’t been back to the prison to visit.
“I mean, I was wrong. It was bad judgment at the spot, just being friendly, just — I don’t know. She, you know, she seemed down in the dumps. Just trying to make her feel better about herself, I guess.”
When contacted by investigators, the woman cried and said she had been terrified to report the misconduct out of fear of retaliation. She said she never gave him her email address.
The agency’s Bureau of Labor Relations sent Welkley a notice in July 2016 saying he would be dismissed from service. It said Welkley had told the woman she looked “sexy,” brushed against her while she was standing at a vending machine and suggested she shouldn’t visit Wishart anymore because he was a “scumbag.”
It wasn’t clear why the move to fire Welkley was never carried out, but unionized employees can file a grievance challenging disciplinary actions.
New York’s prison agency, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, declined to answer questions.
Wishart said correctional officers Cedrik Soria, W. Maryjanowski and Joseph Sullivan assaulted him, according to the report. Both Soria and Maryjanowski have retired from the agency. Sullivan, accused of hitting and kicking the inmate, remains a correction officer at Orleans.
A sergeant who was present for the alleged assault, Sgt. James Opperman, has been fired, but the department declined to say why.
All four of the guards accused of being connected to the assault are represented in the lawsuit by the state attorney general’s office. The attorney handling the case didn’t respond to a request for comment. The union representing the guards also declined to comment or make the officers available for interviews. Messages left at phone numbers possibly connected to Soria and Maryjanowski were not returned. The AP couldn’t find phone listings for Sullivan and Opperman.