The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Geoghan was in unit for 'aggressive' cases

By Sean P. Murphy and Anne Barnard, Globe Staff, 8/28/2003

The protective custody prison unit where defrocked priest John J. Geoghan was sent for committing nonviolent offenses four months before being slain was designed for inmates with records of extremely aggressive behavior, according to a written summary of a correction officials' meeting last year.

State Department of Correction officials say Geoghan, who was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy, was transferred from a medium-security prison in Concord to the protective unit at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility in Shirley because of such offenses as "insolence," disobeying guards' orders, and tampering with a hot plate in his cell.

But in a summary of a Nov. 13, 2002, meeting of correctional officials and union representatives, provided to the Globe yesterday, Souza-Baranowski's deputy superintendent, Lois Russo, is quoted as saying the protective custody unit -- then in the planning stages -- was for inmates "too aggressive" for MCI-Concord.

The meeting took place about five months before Geoghan was transferred.

Department of Correction spokeswoman Kelly Nantel declined to comment on the summary. She said that the unit at Souza-Baranowski is intended for anyone who both needs protection and is deemed a maximum security risk, which she said could be because of violent or "problematic" conduct.

Lawyers who represented Geoghan in prison said yesterday that they pushed hard for his transfer out of MCI-Concord -- but only because he was desperate to escape harassment by prison guards and fellow inmates, which the lawyers said included people urinating and defecating on Geoghan's bed, fouling his food, and verbally taunting him, sometimes after guards intentionally left his cell door open.

Peter J. Costanza, a staff lawyer for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services who represented Geoghan, said he did not request Geoghan's transfer to a specific facility, because court precedents have given correction officials near-total discretion over where prisoners are placed. But Costanza questioned why the officials chose to move Geoghan to a unit with some of the state's most dangerous offenders -- including the self-described neo-Nazi accused of strangling him Saturday.

John H. LaChance, a Framingham lawyer appointed to represent Druce, said yesterday that Druce harbors anger at pedophiles. Druce, 37, is serving a life sentence for murdering a man he believed made a sexual advance toward him.

LaChance said that during a two-hour meeting with Druce at the Shirley prison, his client expressed a desire "to save" children who had been sexually abused and voiced regret about the trauma "they will continue to live with."

"During the conversation, he indicated he had a very deep concern for children who had been molested and the problems they will face for the rest of their lives," LaChance said. "He was concerned with saving the children."

Druce, he said, did not specifically direct his rage toward Geoghan.

LaChance said he did not ask Druce if he planned the crime or acted alone, nor whether Druce is religious or was molested as a child. "That's not the type of delicate question you ask on a first interview, especially under the circumstances," LaChance said.

Allegations that Geoghan molested nearly 150 boys during 30 years as a priest helped trigger the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has racked the Catholic Church and forced the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law late last year.

Though Massachusetts has only two protective custody units -- at Concord and at Souza-Baranowski -- Costanza said Geoghan could have gone to several possible alternate sites, such as Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, where he said at least one former priest convicted of sex crimes is now serving time.

Bay State, Costanza said, is a medium-security facility with two main categories of prisoners: long-time lifers well-adjusted to prison life and determined to serve out their sentences without incident; and nonviolent sex offenders at risk of attack elsewhere.

"Why didn't he go there? I don't know," he said.

Correction officials have said Souza-Baranowski's protective custody unit was appropriate for Geoghan, while declining to describe in detail the criteria for placing prisoners there.

Nantel, the Department of Correction spokeswoman, said Commissioner Michael Maloney yesterday instituted a new policy under which the department will answer questions about Geoghan and Druce only if they are submitted in writing and reviewed by the agency's lawyers. She cited the need to avoid interfering with ongoing investigations by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Worcester District Attorney John Conte.

Prison advocacy lawyers said there were signs that Correction Department officials are also reevaluating the treatment and placement of prisoners at the Concord prison.

Two former priests currently incarcerated at MCI-Concord were transferred in recent days to the prison's hospital unit to ensure their safety, Costanza said.

Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn said Monday that correction officials planned to ask the two -- Ronald H. Paquin, who was sentenced in December to 12 to 15 years in prison, and Kelvin Iguabita, currently serving 12 to 14 years -- if they wanted to transfer out of Concord's general population.

"I am told that both men said they felt they would be safer if they were transferred out of general population, and that has happened," Costanza said. "For right now, I think it was a wise and sensitive move to make to transfer them."

Even before Geoghan's death, Concord's warden, Michael Grant, admonished guards about harassment reported by prisoners and their lawyers, which improved the guards' behavior, said James Pingeon, another lawyer with Costanza's organization. But he said the changes early this year came too late to help Geoghan, who had already been transferred.

Still, Costanza said he is certain some prisoners in protective custody at Concord and Souza-Baranowski are currently in danger, "even as we speak."

In March, a three-member prison board reviewed Geoghan's record to determine if he should remain at Concord or be moved to a more secure facility. It is unclear whether the meeting, called a classification hearing, was prompted by correction officials' concerns about Geoghan's behavior, by a request from Geoghan, or because of routine reviews of whether inmates are medium- or maximum-security risks. Prisoners are entitled to be reviewed every 120 days.

The board recommended that Geoghan stay at Concord, but Deputy Superintendent Scott Anderson and Lori Cressey, deputy director of central classification for the Correction Department, reversed the decision and sent him to Souza-Baranowski in April, according to a statement the department released last night. "The modification was based on Mr. Geoghan's disciplinary reports and his overall level of institutional adjustment," the statement said, adding that it was "not unusual" for department higher-ups to exercise their regulatory power and reverse board decisions.

But Costanza said he believes it was lawyers' complaints about harassment of Geoghan and other inmates that prompted top prison officials to overrule the board.

"I think the superintendent moved him because of our complaints, although the Corrections Department will never tell you that," Costanza said.

"We made them very well aware of what [was] happening to Geoghan there and of our concerns," he said. "Geoghan wanted out of Concord in the worst way."

Costanza said his office has a "substantial" file on reported abuse of Geoghan, including letters and statements from Geoghan and other inmates who said they witnessed incidents. He declined to show reporters the file because some of it may be considered confidential under the attorney-client privilege.

There was no reported physical abuse, he said. Some cases, he said, include allegations of guards "facilitating the incidents by, for example, leaving the cell door open so inmates can go in and do something."

Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, where Costanza and Pingeon work and which advocates for prisoners' legal rights, said Geoghan had complained to a paralegal in her office as well as to a lawyer handling his appeal that he was being harassed and mistreated by guards at MCI-Concord.

She said that when she visited Geoghan at Souza-Baranowski soon after his transfer, he told her he was pleased with the change, despite more restrictions on his activities, because he felt safer and no longer suffered from "threats and harassment."

"Even though he was locked up 21 hours a day, he said, `relatively speaking, I'm happy,' " Walker said.

Costanza said he knew Geoghan could be exchanging one danger for another by heading to a prison with more violent inmates, but accepted the move in an imperfect system.

"Overall, the Department of Correction doesn't properly administer protective custody for inmates in the system," he said. "Souza-Baranowski was better than Concord."

He said the state's system once had protective custody units in almost every prison, but in the 1980s, most were closed as more inmates were "mainstreamed" into the general prison population. Eventually, prisoners requiring protective custody were placed at Concord, he said. In response to complaints about the deteriorating physical conditions at that unit, correction officials last year began planning for the new protective custody unit that opened in April at Souza-Baranowski. Geoghan will be buried "in a Catholic funeral just as any other baptized Catholic would be," the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said yesterday. Geoghan will receive no special attention from the Archdiocese connected with his former priesthood, Coyne said, adding that the family had requested that the time and place of the burial not be released. Stephen Kurkjian, Farah Stockman, and Peter Schworm of the Globe staff contributed to this story.

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