PITTSBURGH (CN) – A pall of sealed documents surrounds the case of a man who may be on the verge of scandalizing the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Charles Chisler says he was “hazed and hog-tied” by fellow prison staff while training as a rookie corrections officer, as part of a statewide policy condoning officer-on-officer violence at state prisons.
Chisler says he fell victim to a “custom and practice of hazing” at Pennsylvania prisons while training in Fayette County, where high-ranking officials ordered him into a room known as “the bubble,” where he was handcuffed, hogtied with an electrical cord and beaten.
Before leaving “the bubble,” at least one of the officers who had attacked him yelled, “Chisler! This never happened today!” Chisler claims.
Apparently, Chisler didn’t get the message, as he sued the officers in September 2009.
“The litigation is serious. If Chisler prevails on his claim, he will have established a custom, practice, or policy of workplace violence at the DOC,” U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer wrote in an opinion released on June 16.
“If true, these allegations can and should have serious repercussions within the Pennsylvania government.”
Fischer ordered Pennsylvania to turn over an “investigative file” related to the suicide of a Department of Corrections employee, which was “allegedly the result of workplace violence and harassment.”
Chisler requested the document in a sealed motion in April; Judge Fisher subsequently conducted an in camera review of the file.
“Given that the DOC interviewed twenty-one employees and produced a report of approximately one hundred and ninety pages, it seems likely that there is far more factual information contained within the requested document than the mere facts of A.H.’s suicide and a letter claiming that sexual harassment may have been a contributing factor,” Fischer wrote.
“Although the events described in the report occurred after the events alleged by Chisler, both the initial actions of the COs and the response or lack thereof by D.O.C. authorities could be probative as to the existence of a custom, practice, or policy of workplace violence. It is therefore difficult to characterize the report as anything other than relevant.”
Fischer ordered the DOC to produce the document, under seal, by June 27 at 5 p.m.
In November 2010, Judge Fischer ordered the DOC to provide Chisler with other documents “relating to incidents of workplace violence, horseplay, hazing or other inappropriate contact and behavior among corrections officers at correctional institutions other than the State Correctional Facility at Fayette,” acknowledging that “the specific correctional institute in question, SCI-Fayette, is a relatively new facility and … a majority of the named defendants worked at other state correctional institutions prior to their employment at SCI-Fayette.”
A spokeswoman for the DOC declined to comment.