A former employee claiming to be a victim of harassment and abuse in Missouri’s Department of Corrections was turned away at a legislative hearing last week.
Recent allegations of egregious behavior at the department — and the squelching of claims through threats, intimidation and payoffs— have been the subject of newspaper reports and now a legislative investigation.
Jon Griggs was fired from his job as a prison guard at the Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific. He says the harassment started when he caught inmates who were in possession of drugs.
“I was read my rights and questioned for trafficking drugs” said Briggs. “Whenever I discovered, two offenders, two gang members that were in possession of morphine, I was accused of bringing the morphine in myself, and basically setting the guy up.”
Griggs says he was told to give the drugs back, but refused to do so. After that point, he claims he was pestered and scrutinized to the point of having to justify going to the bathroom.
When his supervisors discovered a detailed letter he sent to state Representative Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi), Griggs claims he was harassed and eventually fired. He says the system is much different in Kentucky, where he also worked as a corrections officer.
“In Kentucky, violations of law by employees is prosecuted. They’re arrested on site. They’re taken to the county jail and they’re prosecuted for violations of the law. It looks like that’s not what they want to do here. They want to keep everything under the rug so they don’t look bad themselves. That’s the main problem.”
Griggs claims it’s the culture within the state Corrections Department that calls for wrongdoing to be kept silent.
While working as gang task force member at the correctional center in Pacific, he said he was instructed not to report drugs he discovered as dangerous contraband, which would carry felony charges, but instead to report the finding as simple contraband. He claims his refusal to do so eventually led to his firing.
In one instance, Griggs says he was almost killed by inmates who were released shortly afterward. “Two guys tried to murder and stab me. And they’re out. They’re in the public.”
Griggs claims would seem to square with stories from other former Corrections Department employees which were documented in reporting by The Pitch newspaper in Kansas City late last year.
The scandal raised the ire of state lawmakers when it was reported the state had paid out $7.6 million to whistle blowers in exchange for their silence.
A special committee was established by House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and Corrections Committee Chairman Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi) to investigate the accusations.
Griggs contends Fitzwater has been less than responsive to his complaints. While being turned away from testifying in front of the committee Thursday, the panel’s chairman, Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) offered to schedule Griggs for a future hearing.
Griggs has a lawsuit against the state for wrongful termination and religious discrimination. He says he is an ordained minister. The Missouri Department of Corrections declined to comment for this story.