No Lackawanna Judges To Hear Case Against Ex-guard
A 2013 nonprosecution agreement between the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office and John Shnipes could jeopardize the sex abuse case against the former Lackawanna County Prison guard.
The state attorney general’s office filed charges against Shnipes and six other guards in February. Each are accused of using their positions to coerce sex acts from female inmates.
Shnipes’ Philadelphia-based attorney, Brian J. McMonagle, filed a motion asking county judges to dismiss all charges against Shnipes, 43, 115 Simpson St., Archbald, because of a nonprosecution agreement reached five years ago. According to court filings, a county grand jury then probed sexual assault and misconduct allegations made against Shnipes. Then-district attorney Andy Jarbola signed a document agreeing not to file state charges against Shnipes related to “any and all allegations at the Lackawanna County Prison” if Shnipes immediately quit his job at the prison.
McMonagle argued in court filings the agreement also applies to the attorney general’s office in the present case against his client.
“Here (Shnipes) detrimentally relied on this agreement,” McMonagle wrote. “He resigned from his job, lost his employment and suffered enormous financial hardship in return for the promise he wouldn’t be prosecuted. ... The attorney general’s decision to ignore this agreement is inconceivable, unjust and unfair.”
McMonagle also maintains the new charges violate his client’s due process rights because of the time that has elapsed since the agreement and the new charges. McMonagle did not return messages seeking further comment.
Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Elo, the prosecutor handling the case against Shnipes, filed a motion in Lackawanna County court to have the entire county bench recused from the case to avoid any impartiality questions because Jarbola would likely be called as a witness in the case and county jurors would have to judge Jarbola’s “conduct and credibility” in handling the nonprosecution agreement, according to court filings.
President Judge Michael Barrasse granted Elo’s request and directed the court administrator’s office to request an out-of-county judge to hear the case.
Jarbola declined to comment due to ethical concerns because the Shnipes case is still open and he could be called to testify. He suggested contacting retired Assistant District Attorney Bill Fisher, who oversaw the 2013 county grand jury investigation of former guard Joseph Black. Black pleaded guilty in 2015 to abusing five inmates and was sentenced to 45 months to eight years in state prison.
Allegations against Shnipes arose during the Black investigation. In an interview in February, Fisher said he wanted to charge Shnipes, but issues with the case prevented him from doing so. He declined further comment on why he made that determination, citing grand jury secrecy rules.
Contacted Friday, Fisher said he did not take direct part in the negotiation of the nonprosecution agreement. He said he could not comment further because he might be subpoenaed to testify on the matter.
The nonprosecution agreement, dated Sept. 24, 2013, states that the “Commonwealth agrees not to file any state criminal charges against John Shnipes concerning any and all allegations at Lackawana County Prison, Lackawanna County” if he resigned as a guard.
In the motion for recusal, prosecutors allege that Jarbola entered into the nonprosecution agreement without consulting attorneys and investigators conducting the county grand jury investigation. Only Jarbola, Shnipes and Shnipes’ attorney at the time, Thomas W. Munley, signed the agreement.
McMonagle also blasted the attorney general’s recusal motion in court filings. He points out that prosecutors provide no explanation as to why Jarbola will be called as a witness, why his credibility would be questioned or reasons other judges would be ethically unable to preside over the case.
“To be clear, the office of attorney general has violated a nonprosecution agreement and now intends to challenge the credibility of a respected district attorney and jurist. It would be a travesty of justice to allow the Commonwealth to forum shop in an effort to succeed in this miscarriage of justice,” McMonagle wrote in court filings.
Shnipes is charged with six counts involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, two counts of institutional sexual assault, three counts of aggravated indecent assault and two counts of harassment.
The six others accused of sexual misconduct at the prison were Lackawanna County employees at the time of their arrests, but county officials have since fired them. The attorney general’s office has not motioned for county judges to recuse themselves in the cases brought against the others charged in relation to the sex abuse investigation:
n George T. McHale, 51, of 513 Florin St., Scranton, who is charged with institutional sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault.
n Jeffrey T. Staff, 42, 459 Wyoming Ave. Apt. 4, Wyoming, who is charged with institutional sexual assault.
n James J. Walsh, 51, 209 Mosswood Road, Roaring Brook Twp., who is charged with four counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
n Paul J. Voglino, 45, 4 Rear Orchard St., Carbondale, who is charged with two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
n Mark Johnson, 54, 2213 Golden Ave., Scranton, who is charged with indecent assault, harassment and two counts each of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and institutional sexual assault.
n George R. Efthimiou, 51, 1121 Loomis Ave., Taylor, who is charged with two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and institutional sexual assault.
TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER, staff writer, contributed to this report.
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