AP NEWS

County Guard Acquitted Of Sexual Abuse Gets Job Back

April 4, 2019

A former Lackawanna County prison guard acquitted of charges he sexually abused an inmate was reinstated to his job, but will remain on paid administrative leave while the county conducts an internal investigation, county spokesman Joseph D’Arienzo said.

George T. McHale was reinstated Wednesday and will be paid $66,963.83 in back pay, D’Arienzo said.

The agreement resolves a union grievance McHale filed that challenged the county’s decision to fire him on March 2, 2018 — about two weeks after he and six other guards were charged with sexually abusing inmates based on statewide grand jury investigation.

McHale faced trial this February on one count of institutional sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault for allegedly forcing a female inmate to masturbate him inside the prison in 2009. A Lackawanna County jury found him not guilty of all charges on Feb. 7

In a statement, D’Arienzo said McHale was reinstated based on the verdict, but was placed on leave “while the county conducts an internal investigation.” He did not elaborate on why county officials felt an investigation was warranted or the focus of the probe.

McHale’s accuser said she was “disgusted” to learn he’s been reinstated.

“I stand firm in my testimony and everything I had to say about what happened to me,” she said.

The woman is also a witness in the case against former guard John Shnipes Jr., who is scheduled to stand trial in June on charges he abused her and several other women. The Times-Tribune is not identifying the woman because Shnipes’ case remains pending.

The cases are being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s office. Joe Grace, spokesman for the office, declined to comment on the county’s decision to reinstate McHale.

McHale’s attorney, Joseph Toczydlowski,said McHale has always maintained his innocence. He said he understands some people may question the decision to reinstate him, but the jury verdict speaks for itself.

“There was a trial by jury and he was acquitted of the charges,” he said. “He otherwise had a spotless record as a corrections officer.”

The decision to place McHale on paid leave will add to the county’s burgeoning costs related to the sexual abuse probe.

McHale joins four other prison guards who were placed on paid leave based on allegations of sexual abuse contained in a federal lawsuit filed by Scranton attorney Matthew Comerford . Those guards — Robert Maguire, William Shanley,Charles Betress and Edward Williams — have not been charged criminally.

As of February, they collectively have been paid $450,695. The county said they will remain on paid leave until the criminal investigation concludes and they are either charged or cleared of wrongdoing. The county also spent more than $690,000 on legal fees related to a dispute over records the attorney general’s office seized as part of the investigation.

Contact the writer: tbesecker@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter