John P. O'Donnell, the suspended prison guard charged with allowing accused murderer John F. Thanos to leave jail early, has won his job back -- at least for now.
Although O'Donnell has won the first round with the state, the Division of Correction will continue trying to fire him, according to state officials.
"We're going to pursue the charges for removal," said Stuart Nathan, an assistant attorney general.
In the meantime, the ruling released yesterday by Administrative Law Judge Eleanor A. Wilkinson will return O'Donnell to his job as a correctional officer at Eastern Correctional Institution. O'Donnell also is to receive pay dating back to Oct. 4, when he was suspended.
Wilkinson ruled that keeping O'Donnell on the job during the disciplinary proceeding does not pose a threat to the public safety, particularly since he has switched jobs and now works as a correctional officer at ECI, rather than as a records supervisor.
"Undeniably the erroneous release of [Thanos] had tragic consequences," Wilkinson wrote in her four-page decision. "But to reason back from these consequences that Mr. O'Donnell's continued employment poses a threat to the state's interests is faulty and cannot be logically justified."
O'Donnell said he was relieved to have his pay and health benefits returned. But, he added, "It's only step one. We have a long way to go."
O'Donnell was chief records supervisor at ECI in Somerset County when Thanos was released in April.
Thanos faces three murder charges stemming from a three-day alleged crime spree in late August and early September. His release came about 18 months too early, because of a miscalculation of the early release credits Thanos had earned, according to public safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson.
O'Donnell has charged that the state is making him a "scapegoat." He also says that a supervisor at headquarters in Baltimore approved the calculations leading to Thanos' release.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer has said he will appoint an independent counsel to look at the entire Thanos case. Robinson has asked his department to take a second look as well.
O'Donnell left his job as a records supervisor in June to become a correctional officer, a position in which he no longer calculates inmates' release dates.
The state can appeal the ruling to the secretary of the Department of Personnel. O'Donnell is still waiting to receive formal written charges from the state.