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Warden demoted amid prison sex scandal

Ohio prison officials won’t say why they demoted Lebanon Correctional Institution Warden Timothy Brunsman and replaced him last week with a former state prisons chief.

Brunsman received a glowing job review last September, but was criticized by prison investigators earlier this year for his “wholly inadequate” response to the disciplinary case of prison health care administrator Amy Weiss, who engaged in wildly inappropriate sexually related conduct and was eventually fired, according to documents obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Brunsman, the warden since November 2007, suddenly left the prison in mid-July for an “interim” desk job at the Corrections central office. He starts work Aug. 12 as the warden’s assistant at Madison Correctional Institution, taking a pay cut. He was replaced in Lebanon Monday by Ernie Moore, who was prisons director in 2010 under former Gov. Ted Strickland.

“Director (Gary) Mohr felt that it was time for a leadership change,” said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “Beyond that, I will not go into any specific matters regarding (Brunsman’s) operation of the facility.”

Under Brunsman’s watch, Lebanon Correctional, known as LeCI, had a spate of personnel problems involving sexual misconduct by staff.

• Weiss was fired in April after an investigation found she habitually made raunchy comments in front of staff and inmates and was such a mean boss that she contributed to a nursing shortage. Investigators criticized Brunsman for a lackadaisical response to Weiss’s behavior after he learned about it a year ago, even though she had previously been suspended for groping an officer during a pat-down.

• Amy Noll, LeCI’s sex offender treatment program director, resigned in January 2011 after she was confronted with hidden-camera evidence showing her kissing and being fondled by an inmate in her office, according to a prison investigation report. She wasn’t criminally charged because the contact, interrupted by investigators, “didn’t rise to the level of a felony sexual battery offense,” said Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.

• Iona Diane Cowan, a case manager, quit in June 2009 after she too was caught having sexual contact with an inmate. Cowan made admissions to state troopers who investigated. She was convicted of sexual battery, served some jail time, and is now a registered sex offender, records show.

Additionally, prison officials in August 2011 hired Dr. Timothy Heyd as LeCI’s chief medical officer, knowing that the Ohio Medical Board suspended his medical license from 2008-2010 for having sex with patients and perjuring himself to cover it up, Smith acknowledged. She said Heyd, a former Alter High School sports team physician, has been a good employee. Heyd was a witness against Weiss in the internal investigation.

“The culture seems out of control and culture starts at the top,” said David Singleton, director of the nonprofit Ohio Justice & Policy Center, a Cincinnati law office focused on justice-system reform. “It’s very important to have a leader who creates an atmosphere of professionalism. I’m not attacking the former warden, but it seems like he lost his grip on it. The sexual stuff is just off the chain.”

LeCI will be the first prison to receive a “cultural assessment” to provide “a holistic view of the overall operations of the prison and bring to the surface any areas that may need attention or improvement,” Smith said in a statement. Eventually, all the prisons will be assessed.

Brunsman and Heyd did not respond to invitations to comment for this story. Weiss, Noll and Cowan could not be reached or did not return messages.

“I think it’s important to note that all of the incidents were completely separate and handled properly,” Smith said of the three women’s cases.

But inspectors in Weiss’s case faulted Brunsman for merely telling her to take a supervisor training class after a 2010 investigation found Weiss created “a workplace that was hostile, unprofessional and not appropriate for a health care setting.”

Investigative reports showed that Weiss, who was fired April 10 for violating employee conduct rules, cursed, berated and threatened her staff, frequently bragged of her sexual exploits, and once pulled down the pants of handcuffed inmates in a crowded hallway after a disturbance and remarked on their genitalia. A nurse told investigators “Weiss frequently spoke of her sexual interaction with officers, lieutenants, captains and the power it gave her.”

Interviews with three dozen current and former prison employees “painted a picture of an unprofessional and distasteful work environment,” investigators wrote. They said Weiss “has continued, despite previous attempts to address such behavior, to engage in inappropriate and unprofessional conduct of a sexual nature.”

Prison officials hired Weiss as an entry level nurse in March 1997, promoting her to nursing supervisor in 2006. As health care administrator, Weiss made $33.72 an hour, or about $70,000 per year.

She was suspended for two days in August 2010 after she groped the groin and buttocks of a guard during a pat-down and thrust her groin into his buttocks, in the presence of staff and inmates, witnesses told investigators. Her supervisors deemed her denials “untruthful.”

Still, her 2010-2011 job review described her as “a valuable asset to our department” and praised her “professional attitude.” “Amy, you do a very good job! Thanks,” Brunsman said in a handwritten note by his signature.

More allegations arose in August 2011, when an independent medical oversight committee interviewed Lebanon Correctional staff and reported that Weiss’s unprofessional behavior was partly to blame for high nursing turnover and vacancies at the prison. Stuart Hudson, medical services bureau chief for Ohio Corrections, then ordered the investigation that led to Weiss’s firing.

According to a Feb. 14 report on that investigation, staff members attributed to Weiss a long list of sexually charged remarks and actions. One said Weiss “said something to (a) male staff member about ‘exchanging sexual favors for drywall.’” Another said Weiss “relays stories about tying up individuals with dental floss during sex.” Two others said they saw her either inappropriately touch or rub her body against male staff.

“It was pretty much a no-holds-barred place when it came to off-the-cuff, sexual, ornery stuff,” yet another nurse told investigators.

Nurses also said Weiss routinely yelled and cursed at them, humiliated them in front of staff and inmates, and threatened retaliation if they reported her.

According to the inspection report, Weiss admitted making sexual comments, but said she heard staff members make similar remarks. “It’s fine for them to have that conversation or take things over the top, but the rules are somehow different for me,” she said.

Weiss said “I would take some fault” regarding her abrasive management style. “I know that’s been brought up and Warden Brunsman and I have talked about that in the past. I would say it is something that I have been extremely conscious of since Warden Brunsman has talked to me.”

As for being partly responsible for a staff shortage, Weiss said, “I understand that the opinion is that I’m running people off.” But she said she felt staff members transferred to other prisons because the workload was easier.

The report, addressed to Director Mohr, was prepared by chief prison inspector Gary Croft and deputy chief inspector Linda Coval.

It concluded that “Amy Weiss’ unprofessionalism permeates the operation,” impacting operations, and she failed to provide the level of leadership expected in the department.

The inspectors also said Brunsman’s recommendation in fall 2011 that Weiss take a class in effective supervision, which was never scheduled, “appears to be wholly inadequate and cannot be considered appropriate action given the circumstances.”

The sex scandals weren’t Brunsman’s only problem. Lebanon Correctional has routinely logged by far the most incidents of use of force against inmates by corrections officers of any state prison, including the maximum-security prison at Lucasville, a watchdog group of the Ohio legislature said. The bipartisan Correctional Institution Inspection Committee reported in June 2011 that LeCI routinely reports the highest number of uses of force against inmates of any of Ohio’s 28 prisons. It had 508 cases from November 2010 to April 2011, 68 percent higher than the next-highest prison, the maximum-security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville.

The committee blamed the unrest on a concentration of violent inmates in what is one of the most overcrowded Ohio prisons. A follow-up report released Thursday said the staff appears to be following proper procedure when using force, and the committee expects improvement as the state prisons move to a tiered security classification system designed to segregate troublemakers and give incentives for good behavior.

Moore, the new warden, declined to comment on the scandals, but said LeCI is instituting the tiered security system.

Smith said Corrections officials are focusing on the future. “A new warden has been appointed and we are excited to see the new vision Warden Moore has for the entire operation of the prison.”

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