Guards Sue Prison Officials

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15 Female Officers Contend They Were Sexually Harassed

by Dwight F. Blint
The Hartford Courant

August 9, 2002

Maj. Richard Matos' career with the state prison system has been on a fast track since he became a correction officer in 1979. He's been promoted,

received commendations and been put in charge of hundreds of officers over the years.

Some female prison employees say Matos is also a serial sexual harasser.

They say Matos, whose brother is a deputy correction commissioner, has been coddled for almost a decade while he has protected other harassers.

On Thursday, Matos was among the prison officials targeted in two federal lawsuits filed by 15 women who say their constitutional rights have been violated.

The women charge that years of complaints have been ignored or mishandled, and that some harassers have been promoted instead of punished. The suits say women who complain have faced retaliation.

The women are accusing male guards of watching pornographic movies while on duty. They say one female guard was asked to work as a prostitute for a male guard's prostitution ring.

"I am putting Commissioner [John] Armstrong and every member of his management and every other employee of the Department of Correction on

notice," said Bridgeport attorney Antonio Ponvert, who represents the defendants in one of the suits. "If a single act of harassment or retribution is inflicted on these women from this day forward, there will be hell to pay."

The two lawsuits were filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport. One names eight plaintiffs; the other names seven. The law firms Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder and Sack, Spector & Karsten are representing the plaintiffs.

Matos, who could not be reached for comment, is a central figure in both. Many of the allegations, however, are not new. The state paid $30,000, for

instance, to former prison counselor Wendy P. Moher after she sued in 1994, claiming Matos sang love songs to her, made sexual remarks and once pretended to masturbate as she walked by his office.

In May, after the General Assembly's labor committee began investigating sexual harassment complaints, Matos was placed on paid leave so the

allegations against him could be investigated. The internal probe is continuing.

Department critics have charged that Matos, 44, has been protected in part because his brother is Deputy Commissioner Peter Matos. They do not allege that Peter Matos has interceded on his brother's behalf.

Correction officials declined comment Thursday.

In one suit, guard Neva Lloyd claims that in 1997 Matos passed her over for a training assignment and ordered one of her supervisors to lower her job performance rating. After that, he called her into his office where he was seated with two other supervisors and ordered her to "turn around." She complied. They then asked her to do it again, and after she questioned them, they told her they had received a complaint that her uniform was too tight.

When she spun around again, Matos said "Wow," according to the lawsuit.

One of the suits also details previously revealed allegations that Armstrong and Deputy Commissioners Jack Tokarz and Dennis C. Coyle frequently sexually harassed former Deputy Commissioner Maria Houser during meetings.

Houser, who was fired from the agency, eventually filed a lawsuit. The state settled her claim by paying her $240,000 and giving her a job with the state Department of Labor. She is not a plaintiff in the latest harassment lawsuits.

However, her earlier allegations are detailed, including claims that Armstrong and Tokarz talked about inmates having anal intercourse and oral

sex; that Armstrong made comments about the alleged sexual conduct of female employees; and that Coyle talked about there being too many female employees in supervisory positions at York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

The suit also claims that one female guard found a used condom on her car, and that another was physically threatened when she refused a male

co-worker's sexual advances. It alleges female guards were denied bathroom breaks, touched sexually and were subjected to explicit language on the job.

The women are asking for unspecified monetary damages and an injunction to stop the harassment. They are also asking that serious offenders be fired.

Some defendants said other women have been affected but are afraid to come forward.

"There are dozens, dozens of women out there who have probably gone through worse than I have, but are scared," said Paulette Williams, a prison guard at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution for nine years. "But it's better

to put it out there. It makes the harassers kind of scared."

"If you're going to walk out on the ice, you might as well dance on it," said Barbara Hawkins, a plaintiff from Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers.

The women want the department to keep files on sexual harassment complaints and offer a more thorough sexual harassment education program to employees.

The Department of Correction has taken some steps to address sexual harassment since women first accused the agency of ignoring complaints in


The department agreed to allow an independent investigator to examine its affirmative action division, which investigates sexual harassment

allegations. The agency is working with the state's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women to develop staff training programs.

A revised sexual harassment policy went into effect at the agency in June.