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Prison Guards Charged With Abuse Were Previously Investigated But Not Charged

February 17, 2018

Former and current Lackawanna County Prison guards arrested this week for sexually abusing female inmates also were implicated during the 2011-13 investigation of another guard for abuse, but were never charged.

Prison officials learned of the allegations against John J. Shnipes Jr., who resigned in 2013, and correctional officer Jeffrey T. Staff from inmates questioned about abuses committed by correctional officer Joseph Black, according to a Nov. 20, 2011, report about an internal prison investigation obtained by The Times-Tribune.

The report, prepared by Capt. William Maguire, and a separate 2013 police report prepared by Lackawanna County Detective Michelle Mancuso, details allegations made against Shnipes by Selena Schooley. Schooley is one of the four victims Shnipes — a former Archbald councilman — is accused of sexually abusing in the charges filed Wednesday.

As a policy, The Times-Tribune does not identify victims of sexual assault. Schooley gave the newspaper permission to use her name.

The Maguire report also quotes two women who say they knew Staff had sexual intercourse with another female inmate who was on work release — the same offense for which Staff now faces charges.

It is unclear why charges were not filed against Shnipes or Staff following the 2011 internal investigation and grand jury probe that targeted Black.

Retired Assistant District Attorney Bill Fisher, who oversaw the Black investigation, said he wanted to charge Shnipes, but issues with the case prevented him from doing so. He would not comment further on why he made that determination, citing grand jury secrecy rules.

Lackawanna County Judge Andy Jarbola,who was district attorney at the time, also said he could not discuss specifics of the case. He said he recalls Fisher advising him there were issues that prevented it from moving forward.

“I trusted his judgment on how to proceed with the case,” Jarbola said.

Maguire’s 2011 report also makes reference to Staff, who now is charged with having sex at his mother’s home with an inmate who was on work release. Maguire did not speak to the inmate. His report quotes two other inmates who said they were aware of the incidents.

It also is unclear whether information about Staff was provided to county prosecutors in 2011. Fisher and Jarbola said they could not recall if those allegations were brought to their attention.

Shnipes, Staff and five other Lackawanna County Prison guards — George T. McHale, James J. Walsh, Paul J. Voglino, George R. Efthimiou and Mark A. Johnson — were arrested Wednesday on sex charges based on the findings of a statewide grand jury. Shnipes faces the most serious charges: eight counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, four counts of aggravated indecent assault and two counts each of institutional sexual assault and harassment. Staff is charged with one count of institutional sexual assault. All seven posted bail and are free. Their preliminary hearings are set for 11:15 a.m. Feb. 23.

In an interview this week, Schooley said she never understood why Shnipes was not charged based on information that emerged in the Black investigation.

Schooley said she was subpoenaed to testify about Shnipes in 2013, before the county grand jury that targeted Black, but she was not called. She said she was never told why she was not called or given an explanation as to why no charges were filed against Shnipes.

“I kept thinking to myself, who is this man to not have been arrested? How can he keep getting away with it?” Schooley said. “It’s like they were afraid to do anything.”

Attorney Joe D’Andrea, who represented Black, said he was aware allegations also were made against Shnipes at that time. He said he suspects Shnipes was not charged then because he worked out a deal with prosecutors.

“It was evident to me some deal was made,” D’Andrea said. “After he testified at the grand jury for Black, there were no charges brought against him. However, he was asked to leave his employment.”

Documents reveal officials at the jail and the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office were aware of the allegations made against Shnipes.

In an Aug. 12, 2013, police report, Mancuso notes Schooley “began to cry uncontrollably” when asked about her incarceration at the jail. Schooley said she was forced to have sex with Shnipes on “more than one occasion.”

The abuse stopped after Schooley told other guards about it, she said. Shnipes reacted by having other inmates retaliate against her, the report says.

“Other inmates would fight her, call her names and make her life a living hell ...” Mancuso says in the report.

The charges filed Wednesday stem from an investigation that began in July 2016, after Scranton attorney Matthew Comerford filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of one woman. He amended the suit five months later to include three more women.

The suit alleges the women were repeatedly sexually abused and that county and prison officials were advised of the claims but never acted to protect them.

The Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office initially handled the criminal investigation. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro took over the case in January 2017, after then-District Attorney Shane Scalon determined he could not proceed because of claims against his office contained in Comerford’s suit.

At a press conference Thursday, Shapiro credited his investigators, whom he said did “yeoman’s work” in developing the evidence to charge Shnipes and six other guards.

“We have taken this case much further than it’s ever been taken,” Shapiro said.

Asked if he thought Lackawanna County prosecutors botched the 2011-13 investigation of Shnipes, Shapiro would not speculate.

“I can’t speak to what other investigators did or what other law enforcement agencies did. I can just tell you what our agency did,” he said.

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