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Jailer's Jihad

Ex-corrections officer Bill Haro thinks he knows exactly why his former employer, the Arizona Department of Corrections, suffers from a severe shortage of prison guards these days. It's a lousy place to work, says the 16-year veteran of the Florence gulag, and it's not because of the low pay or...
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Ex-corrections officer Bill Haro thinks he knows exactly why his former employer, the Arizona Department of Corrections, suffers from a severe shortage of prison guards these days.

It's a lousy place to work, says the 16-year veteran of the Florence gulag, and it's not because of the low pay or because of dangerous, unpredictable inmates who threaten to kill their jailers just for the fun of it. Those aren't the real problems, he says.

According to Haro, corrections officers leave DOC in droves because of a malevolent bureaucracy that protects corrupt bosses and discriminates against the honest guys in the trenches, the lowly corrections officers.

In a blitzkrieg of grievances he filed against his superiors before he finally got fired last month, Haro says DOC managers repeatedly retaliated against him for pointing out in 1995 that a prison official had roughed up a shackled prisoner.

In a nutshell, Haro says some of his superiors are liars.
DOC says Haro's the one who's lying by making false, malicious allegations about his superiors.

On October 28, DOC Director Terry Stewart asked Haro to sign a "settlement agreement" that amounted to this: If Haro would accept an unpaid 10-day suspension, control his nasty temper and, most important, admit that he'd lied about his superiors, then DOC would not fire Haro for lying about them. Of course, that makes no sense, and argues for the idea that DOC wanted to let the matter drop because Haro really hadn't done anything wrong in the first place.

Haro said he didn't lie, and he wouldn't sign Stewart's proposed settlement.
So Haro was fired on November 9 for "dishonesty and intentional untruthfulness." In his dismissal letter, Stewart noted Haro's conduct "brings unnecessary discredit on high ranking officials."

Haro has appealed his dismissal to a state personnel board, which will hear the case in April 1999. And he's also filed a Superior Court suit against DOC, alleging retaliation and discrimination for blowing the whistle.

Because of the ongoing litigation, DOC spokesman Mike Arra wouldn't comment on Haro.

And since the cases have not been heard, we don't know for sure who's telling the truth. All we know now is that Haro's struggle against DOC is his personal jihad, and he vows to fight for his honor and the brotherhood of corrections officers until the end of time.

DOC may well regret taking on Bill Haro.
Magma Copper Company certainly did.
Twenty years ago, Haro was a young copper miner who worked at the Magma mine in San Manuel. One day in 1978, Haro was ordered by his superiors to uncouple a 15-ton railroad car--alone.

Haro refused.
He did not want to be crushed to death or dismembered by a 15-ton railroad car. He told his bosses that the task he had been ordered to undertake alone was usually performed by two men--for safety's sake one miner needed to signal the engineer controlling the ore-car train while the other man actually uncoupled the railroad car.

At the time, because miners were routinely killed in unnecessary accidents, the landmark federal Mine Safety and Health Act had just been passed. Among other things, the act prohibited discrimination of miners like Haro who voiced reasonable concerns over safety matters. But the new law didn't protect Haro, who said his bosses began discriminating against him for refusing to uncouple the railroad car.

That single incident launched Haro on a six-year campaign to defend his honor, and, perhaps secondarily, to fight for mine safety. In the course of his battles, he filed a series of written grievances in which he pointed out other safety violations. Each time he perceived he was discriminated against for noting safety violations, he filed even more grievances against Magma.

Of course, he was eventually fired.
Naturally, he also protested his firing. He lost that dispute, too.
A few years later, he filed a malpractice lawsuit against the lawyer who represented him in the case protesting his dismissal, and won $50,000.

Haro's six-year campaign had another, more important effect--it generated thousands of pages of public records that were reported on in an an award-winning 1984 series in the Arizona Daily Star. Although Magma Copper Company would not comment for the stories, the newspaper reported that in the six years Haro was involved with the company, 15 Magma workers died in accidents. Haro had exposed Magma's ugly side.

Fortunately, Bill Haro found another job shortly after he was fired from Magma. He started working for the Arizona Department of Corrections in 1982.

He loved the work, considered it a public service. He soon became a case manager for the most violent criminals in the system. He had some lessons to learn, though. Early on, in 1984, he was disciplined for tackling a prisoner who had taunted him, and for lying about it. Haro claimed he did not lie, admitted he should have let the prisoner slug him first instead of anticipating a blow and downing the inmate before he hit Haro.

A few years later, Haro was disciplined for accepting some copied legal material from convicts who worked in the law library. Prisoners are not supposed to do favors for corrections officers, but Haro said he didn't ask for the cases, and had thrown them away immediately after the inmates left the room.

Those were the only two matters for which Bill Haro was disciplined in his entire career at DOC.

That is, until he began his crusade against DOC in 1995.
In 1995, Haro was happily working in Cellblock Six, which housed about 200 prisoners, including all death row inmates. Haro was a literacy coordinator, and he handled the grievance procedure for Cellblock Six inmates. Sometimes, prisoners threw feces at him. Other times, they'd fashion darts out of hand-sharpened paper clips and, using homemade blowguns made of notebook paper, aim them at Haro.

The more violent criminals who visited Haro's office were tethered to chain leashes attached to their belts, so that if they lunged at Haro a guard could pull them away.

Haro neither liked nor disliked the inmates. He tried to remain neutral.
Then one day in November 1995, Haro heard from another official that one of his superiors had roughed up a shackled prisoner. Because this was a serious breach of prison policy, Haro informed on his boss.

It would be the seminal event that launched Haro on the second crusade of his life.

The superior Haro accused was furious, and denied smacking the prisoner.
Haro claims he was retaliated against in a number of ways, including being banished from his beloved Cellblock Six.

So he began fighting DOC in exactly the same way as he'd fought Magma for exactly the same reasons, to defend his honor, and to fight for the rights of his co-workers.

Every time he felt he was the subject of unfair retaliation, he filed a grievance against DOC. Haro says he was repeatedly humiliated and embarrassed by trumped up charges.

Records show DOC accused Haro of saying something about "a nigger stepchild" to an African American officer. Haro said he was merely repeating what one inmate called another during a recent fight. In an affidavit, the African American officer said Haro had never been racist and had not offended him.

Nevertheless, DOC suspended Haro for 16 hours without pay for "use of rude or insulting language."

Haro fought back. Hard. Besides filing grievances, he tattled on his superiors for things that were none of his business. For instance, he alleged in graphic detail that a deputy director made sexual advances to a female officer in a motel. Haro says the female officer told him about it. The deputy director denied making sexual advances.

Asked why he would inform on something he had no firsthand knowledge of, Haro says everyone in this dispute is engaged in playing "hardball." Besides, he says, DOC top dogs should follow the same rules as corrections officers, who aren't allowed to flirt with each other.

DOC says it has investigated numerous allegations made by Haro and that most were malicious nonsense.

Haro insists that he has always told the truth. He claims the hundreds of pages of internal DOC investigative documents that he has subpoenaed, but not yet received, will vindicate him in his court case and personnel board hearing.

If those records become public, we'll be able to judge for ourselves who is telling the truth.

Right now, it looks as if Haro has the advantage.
After all, Director Stewart already signaled that he'd rather let the matter drop when he offered to keep Haro on the job if he would sign a paper admitting he lied about practically everything.

You'd think Director Stewart wouldn't want a confirmed liar on his staff.

Contact Terry Greene Sterling at 229-8437, or online at [email protected]

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