Ex NSP officer wins $350,000 lawsuit against state
August 19, 2008
RENO ” A former Nevada State Prison guard who claimed he was fired because he criticized his managers has won $350,000 in a lawsuit against the state.
A federal jury awarded the damages to Richard Cosgrove, who sued the former head of the Department of Corrections after he was fired allegedly for bringing DVDs into a gun tower while on duty.
Cosgrove argued that the DVD claim was bogus and said he was fired for publicly criticizing the management of the facility after a new warden, William Donat, was brought on board and ended a list of inmate programs.
“The stable boy has beat the king,” said Cosgrove, a 15-year veteran of the prison system.
“In my heart, I felt I was done wrong. The jury’s decision was a big deal,” he told a Reno newspaper today.
The six-woman, one-man jury found in favor of Cosgrove late Friday, after a five-day trial in U.S. District Court in Reno.
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Nicole Moon, spokeswoman for the Nevada Attorney General’s office, said the firing of Cosgrove was sound.
“This decision was upheld by a hearing officer and a state district court judge,” Moon said. “The Department of Corrections was certainly surprised by the jury’s decision, and our office will be working with the department, so they can determine how best to proceed.”
Cosgrove filed the lawsuit against Glen Whorton, the former director of the Nevada Department of Corrections, in December 2006.
He said he had been the subject of an investigation in January 2006 regarding whether he had DVDs in his tower while on duty in December 2005. After the investigation was reported, he was fired on June 4, 2006, his suit said.
Cosgrove said he had planned to watch the movies during “lock down” when there are quiet periods in his 12-hour shift.
“The most severe discipline imposed on prior similar occasions involving tower officers was a written reprimand,” he said in his suit.
“Whorton imposed the most severe discipline possible not because the evidence or equity supported it, but because Whorton had learned that plaintiff had spoken out to the press outside of his job duties and as a citizen concerning the security of the institution in relation to nearby citizenry and neighborhoods,” his suit said.
He had spoken out, he said, to expose “mismanagement, ineffective use of resources and misconduct by public officials, including Whorton,” the suit said.
Cosgrove said the inmate programs at the prison were important tools for keeping the facility safe and for keeping inmates in line. He also said the warden had created a hostile work environment with the guards.