The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Geoghan, in '02, alleged guard assaulted him

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/20/2003

In a complaint written last year, defrocked priest John J. Geoghan said a prison guard intentionally "slammed" into him as he walked in a corridor at Concord state prison. He was later disciplined after confronting the guard and accusing him of assault.

Lawyers have said that Geoghan, who was killed Aug. 23, a few months after he was transferred from MCI-Concord to the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, was abused by guards while in the medium-security facility.

This complaint, a copy of which was provided to the Globe, recounts one of those instances in Geoghan's handwriting and is the first account by Geoghan to be made public of his alleged abuse by guards.

Several inmates wrote letters before Geoghan's death to prisoner rights lawyers and relatives saying they had witnessed guards at the Concord prison abuse Geoghan, including defecating in his bed and destroying his property.

Geoghan wrote in his report that as he approached his sister, Catherine T. Geoghan, in the prison's visitor center on Sept. 5, 2002, a correction officer "passed her and with eye contact with me, veered into my path and hit me with his right shoulder, (a strong body check) which slammed my right shoulder and `spun me' around (I'm almost 70 years old)."

After the encounter, Geoghan said, he went to where his sister was sitting with another female visitor, who was there to see a different prisoner. He wrote that he exchanged a "greeting" with the other woman before turning to his sister. At that point, according to the report, a second guard warned him, "If you speak one more word to that woman, your visit is canceled!"

The first guard, who was standing nearby, "smirked and said some expletive," Geoghan wrote. "I said quietly `you assaulted me' Period!"

Geoghan was taken from the visitor center and interviewed by Sergeant Harold Wilkes, a state Department of Correction investigator, who later concluded that the former priest "did lie and make false and misleading statements regarding the actions of the Correction Officer," according to a second report provided to the Globe.

That finding resulted in Geoghan's losing canteen and visitor privileges for six weeks. Correction officials have said there were 12 disciplinary findings against Geoghan in his 14 months at the Concord prison. Those findings led to his transfer in April to Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, where he was beaten and strangled last month. All the disciplinary reports alleged disobeying orders, except one that accused him of altering a hot plate in his cell to heat water for tea.

Geoffrey C. Packard, Geoghan's lawyer at the time, appealed the finding for the Sept. 5, 2002, incident. In a letter, Packard wrote that Wilkes "investigated by interviewing the COs [correction officers] and the inmate."

In disputing the charge, Geoghan was not permitted to call his sister as a witness, according to a lawyer familiar with the case. His request for videotape of the incident also was denied, the lawyer said.

One lawyer who works on behalf of prisoners said Geoghan's alleged statement to the guard -- "You assaulted me" -- was the kind of declaration most prisoners would avoid making, to avoid trouble.

"Most prisoners know enough to shut up," said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified, because he did not want to be seen as interfering in the Geoghan case.

Since Geoghan's death, Michael T. Maloney, commissioner of the Department of Correction, has made no public comment. The State Police and Department of Correction are conducting an investigation into Geoghan's death and the conduct of guards.

Justin Latini, a spokesman for Maloney, declined to comment yesterday. A spokesman for the union representing prison guards also declined to comment on Geoghan's report.

Authorities say Geoghan was murdered by Joseph L. Druce, a convicted murderer who was housed with Geoghan in the protective custody unit at Souza-Baranowski. Druce made his first court appearance on that charge yesterday in Worcester Superior Court.

When he was killed, Geoghan was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy. Allegations that he sexually assaulted nearly 150 children, mostly boys, helped spark the clergy sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

According to Geoghan's report on the Sept. 5, 2002, incident, he was escorted to the visitor center by a guard who left him at the door with the words, "Don't stir up any trouble today," and then laughed.

By that day, Geoghan's lawyer already had written a letter to William Coalter, then the superintendent of the Concord prison. Packard wrote that two guards "have been harassing Geoghan virtually since the day he arrived."

"They have repeatedly suggested that he engages in sexual intercourse with his sister (a frail spinster in her late 60s); they have ransacked his cell in futile search for contraband and have damaged or destroyed personal items, some of a religious nature," Packard wrote.

"Most recently, they have issued Disciplinary Reports seeking major sanctions for the most petty of offenses," Packard wrote. "It is nearly impossible to read the officers' accounts without inferring that they are part of a vendetta."

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at

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