Prison guard’s firing over tear gas grenades upheld
June 10, 2005
A state hearing officer has upheld the termination of a correctional sergeant at Ely State Prison who let officers keep tear gas grenades used in a training exercise.
Gilbert Cunningham was hired in 1990 and over the next decade with the prison system consistently received “above standard” evaluations from his superiors. He was named commander of the Correctional Emergency Response Team in 2002 and, among other things, charged with training correctional officers involved in CERT.
At a barbecue following a September 2003 training exercise, Cunningham gave five members of that team a souvenir – live tear gas grenades left over from the exercise.
The situation came to light six months later when two of the unaccounted-for grenades were found in a locker outside the prison gatehouse. Cunningham was charged with stealing state property among other violations and terminated.
“By allowing the CERT officers to take the gas grenades out into the community and home to their families, Sergeant Cunningham endangered the public’s safety,” according to the charges filed against him.
He appealed his firing but lost Friday. Hearing Officer Patrick Dolan ruled the evidence shows Cunningham denied culpability, manipulated official records and created a story explaining away the missing gas grenades – then tried unsuccessfully to get the other officers to go along with that concocted version of the story.
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He said the truth is he had been drinking at the time and wasn’t completely sure how many grenades he had given and to whom.
He wrote that, had Cunningham “stepped to the front and timely and fully disclosed how the CS gas grenades had come to be in the possession of his subordinates,” the case wouldn’t warrant termination.
“However, when that original misconduct is coupled with his active and aggressive efforts to deflect and cover up his initial involvement in the removal of the canisters when found in visitor’s locker six, the seriousness of his conduct grows exponentially,” he wrote.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.