April 12, 2008
By Ken Krayeske • 11:30 PM EST
Connecticut leads the country in imprisoning African-American and Latino boys. This incarceration policy doesn't help anyone. It merely manifests rampant institutional racism.
And it seems that this condition of state-sanctioned hatred makes life at the $57-million Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown hell not just for inmates, but also for some staff members, too.
For example, last Saturday night, Freddy Ramirez, 27, of Bridgeport took a gunshot to the torso and died. On Sunday, police arrested Jermaine Buster, 17, in connection with the killing, according to Channel 3 news.
Less than 24 hours before the crime, Buster had been released from CJTS, where he spent two years. What could have moved Buster to resort to violence less than a day after finishing a two-year bid? Is it the behavior modeled to him at CJTS?
This past Friday, April 11, 2008 at the Federal District Court in Hartford, a civil rights lawsuit (.pdf h/t Ctnewsjunkie ) alleged that in Dec. 2006, when Buster would have been an inmate, Brian Bendig, a white male CJTS supervisor punched in the head Joan Goodwine, a black female instructional assistant.
Following the assualt, the suit contends that a concerted management team protected the attacker and retaliated against Goodwine, who has worked at DCF since 1995, and Joseph Cardillo, her union rep and the Vice President of AFSCME Local 318, for complaining of the unjust trespass.
The Plaintiffs name names: Jean Gavey, a DCF Human Resources Officer; Janet Perez, a DCF Senior Human Resources Officer; John Mattera, principal at the Walter G. Cady School at CJTS; and John Sullivan, Superintendent of DCF's Unified School District II.
In last April's federal civil rights number, four plaintiffs alleged that four state managers, including Deputy Secretary of the State Lesley Mara, formerly CJTS administrator and Gavey lorded over an invidious atmosphere.
Lest we think the problem is only at CJTS, it seems endemic to DCF, as in mid-February this year, two different people filed employment discrimination suits over the course three days.
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt, who had no comment in the February suits, said via email that the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities dismissed the claims by Goodwine and Cardillo.
"The Department values highly the diversity of our staff, and we are continually striving to be more culturally competent in our work," Kleeblatt wrote. "We are particularly proud of the fact that we are the most diverse large state agency and that 50 percent of our social work staff are persons of color. We believe that this diversity makes us a better organization and one that better serves the diverse families that live in Connecticut."
Kleeblatt has a dream compared to the nightmare offered by Goodwine and Cardillo. They maintain that in the teachers' lounge at CJTS at 1 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2006, Bendig walked up to Goodwine and whacked her in the forehead without provocation.
"'I will kick your ass,' he said to her. She had no idea what prompted this," the lawsuit reads. That same day, he allegedly told Goodwine that another CJTS female employee could "kick your ass."
That paragraph concludes: "On several other occasions, Defendant Bendig addressed Ms. Goodwine as 'Goodswine'."
After the complained of physical assault, which happened right before Christmas break, Goodwine began to suffer headaches. Upon her return to work, Goodwine told her tale to her immediate boss, who relayed it to school principal Mattero.
Then it went up the DCF chain to Gavey, who apparently notified state police. Bendig was put on administrative leave until Feb. 1, and A state judge later denied a police application for an arrest warrant against Bendig in the assault.
While all this was happening, Cardillo the union rep was out with a concussion from a different incident. When he returned on Jan. 22, 2007, he filed the first of multiple grievances for Goodwine.
He claims that almost immediately, his advocacy motivated Mattera and Gavey assigned him to dangerous duty at CJTS. Within days, the lawsuit says, he was transferred to "the most violent unit at CJTS, referred to herein as Building 6."
On Feb. 7, Cardillo suffered another injury on the job that effectively ended his career, the lawsuit reads.
Goodwine remains at CJTS, where, according to the lawsuit, "both Plaintiffs have been subjected to a hostile work environment, based on race and gender, that has been a continuing hell, from which, despite my grievance and protests, and have received little or no help at all, but only further subjection to a fearful, ugly workplace."
That grammar is not a typo. The rest of the allegations in the 19-page lawsuit may never reach a fact-finder like a jury. But the story spun by Goodwine and Cardillo seems consistent with DCF's history and the prison that is CJTS.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell once promised to close down CJTS, a relic of the not-so-forgotten corrupt Rowland-era. Yet CJTS remains home to almost 100 adolescent males.
Maybe if some super-felon invaded the campus and sexually assaulted and killed some inmates, Gov. Rell hold a press conference to demand legislation to clean up the festering mess at DCF.
For now, interpret her continued silence and inexplicable inaction as participation in a sordid state of affairs.