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AG: Charges Against Former Prison Guard Should Stand

March 31, 2019

A 2013 nonprosecution agreement that allowed a former Lackawanna County Prison guard accused of sexually assaulting inmates to escape prosecution is not valid because the district attorney’s office never consulted the victims before agreeing to the deal, the state attorney general’s office says in court papers.

Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Elo contends former District Attorney Andy Jarbola, now a county judge, violated Pennsylvania’s Crime Victims Act when he signed an agreement that let John Shnipes resign in lieu of facing charges for alleged criminal conduct uncovered in a 2012 investigation of sexual abuse at the prison.

Shnipes, 43, 115 Simpson St., Archbald, is one of seven former prison guards charged in February 2018 with abusing inmates based on a statewide grand jury investigation. His attorney, Brian McMonagle of Philadelphia, filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing the agreement in the prior case bars him from being prosecuted in the current case. One of the four women Shnipes is currently charged with abusing was among the victims in the 2012 case.

The Times-Tribune does not identify victims of sexual assault.

In a previous response to the motion to dismiss, Elo argued the agreement is not enforceable because attorney Amil Minora,a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted part of the 2012 case, failed to disclose he had a conflict of interest. Minora denies the allegation.

The latest response, filed Wednesday, raises a new legal argument relating to the Crime Victims Act. Elo contends the act requires that prosecutors advise victims of “significant action” relating to their case and that failure to do so invalidates any agreement made with a defendant.

“One could not credibly characterize the termination of a criminal case without charges as insignificant to a crime victim,” Elo says in the reply. “A prosecutor is required under the act to notify and consult with a victim prior to taking such action.”

Shnipes is scheduled to stand trial in June on multiple charges, including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and institutional sexual assault. Prosecutors say he sexually abused four female inmates between 1999 and 2013.

Jeffrey Smith, a senior judge from Bradford County specially appointed to preside over the case, will take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling at a later date.

The cases against three of the other former guards charged have been resolved. On Feb. 7, a jury found George T. McHale not guilty of all charges filed against him. Jeffrey T. Staff and George R. Efthimiou pleaded no contest Feb. 21 and March 14, respectively, to official oppression. Staff was sentenced to nine months of probation. Efthimou’s sentencing remains pending.

Contact the writer:

tbesecker@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9137;

@tmbeseckerTT on Twitter