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Crime Court: NJ correction officer’s firing upheld in inmate hair-shaving incident

18:45  16 february  2020
18:45  16 february  2020 Source:   courierpostonline.com

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A three-judge appellate panel ruled Thursday the New Jersey Department of Corrections was justified in removing Steven Hotz as a senior corrections officer at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Chesterfield.

The department fired Hotz in October 2016 after he admitted he initially lied to investigators about a 2015 incident inside the detention facility’s barbershop.

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According to court documents, Hotz was called into the barbershop on Nov. 6, 2015 by another senior corrections officer, Ivonne Collazo.

When he arrived, he saw an inmate, Edwin Lopez, face to face with senior corrections officer Brian Attardi. Hotz claimed he saw Lopez raise his arm as if to hit Attardi, and grabbed the inmate’s arm.

Hotz and Attardi then held down Lopez in a barber’s chair as Collazo used clippers to shave off his hair.

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Lopez told investigators the officers held him down and punched him as Collazo shaved his head because he had given another corrections officer, Lt. Harry Ervin, a bad haircut.

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Hotz initially denied any knowledge of the incident to investigators.

In a second interview, however, Hotz admitted he took part in the incident but denied physically assaulting Lopez. He said he had no idea Collazo had planned to shave off Lopez’s hair and was taken aback by her actions.

The Department of Corrections charged him with falsification, conduct unbecoming of an officer, and physical and mental abuse of an inmate, and fired him.

Attardi and Collazo were also fired, and Ervin was given a “major disciplinary suspension.”

Hotz appealed his removal to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission on the basis that his initial interview with investigators in March 2016 was constitutionally deficient. The commission referred the case to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Administrative Law Judge Joseph Lavery upheld his removal after a hearing in 2017, however, after hearing testimony from another corrections officer who witnessed the incident, dismissed the abuse charges.

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“Falsification in the setting of a correctional facility such as Garden State strikes at the heart of a correction officer’s responsibility and accountability,” Lavery wrote in his initial decision.

The Civil Service Commission determined the judge properly decided the merits of the falsification charge by summary decision, and found that the penalty of removal was appropriate, and stated that “the egregiousness of . . . appellant’s misconduct clearly warrants” termination.

Hotz appealed the commission’s final determination to the appellate division of New Jersey Superior Court.

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This article originally appeared on The Courier-Post: Court: NJ correction officer’s firing upheld in inmate hair-shaving incident

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