Guards' reinstatement still in doubt Attorney's decision to go to arbitration

August 04, 1991|By Thom Loverro

Allegany County Sheriff Gary Simpson, who fired two jail guards for their performance during last year's escape of two inmates aided by former jail guard Sandra Kay Beeman, is fighting a ruling that ordered him to take the officers back.

Sheriff Simpson fired Gary Huffman and Michelle Puderbaugh, guards at the County Jail, in February for allegedly violating department policies during the Aug. 29, 1990, escape of two inmates.

But the two officers appealed the firings and were reinstated in June by County Attorney John J. McMullen, Jr., who instead ordered a 120-day suspension from the date of the firings.

Sheriff Simpson has appealed the county attorney's ruling, and the issue will be resolved by an arbitrator, who has not yet been selected.

Mr. Huffman declined to comment about the appeal, but Mrs. Puderbaugh said she was being made a scapegoat by Sheriff Simpson to cover up problems at the jail and the failure of the administration to act on known security problems, such as Mrs. Beeman's previous relationships with other inmates.

"It's very convenient for [Sheriff Simpson] if he can get rid of me, because then he can keep me from bringing out the facts," Mrs. Puderbaugh said. "He is offering me a transfer to another county facility with full seniority, benefits intact and record cleared, so that I would drop the case." She declined the offer, she said.

By the county attorney's ruling, Mrs. Puderbaugh and Mr. Huffman should have been back at their jobs by the end of June. But Mrs. Puderbaugh said because of Sheriff Simpson's appeal, they still remain out of work pending the arbitrator's decision. "But as far as I am concerned, I am still employed there," she said.

Sheriff Simpson said he would not comment on the appeal.

Mr. McMullen said until the arbitrator makes a ruling, the sheriff is not required to take the two guards back. If the arbitrator rules in favor of the guards, they will be due back pay from the date the four-month suspension ended, he said.

The dispute centers on the escape of two inmates, Edgar Eugene Kerns and James Vernon Barnes, who were helped by jail guard Sandra Kay Beeman, who was later linked romantically to Kerns. Barnes was captured four days later in West Virginia, while Kerns was caught with Beeman in Canada on Oct. 18 after a motel clerk saw their photos on a television program and recognized them as the couple registered in the motel as Mr. and Mrs. Fred Smith.

Barnes and Beeman were convicted on escape and other related charges, while Kerns, who is being held in Roxbury Correctional Institution on bad check and other charges, has not yet been tried in the escape case.

Mrs. Puderbaugh was working in the main jail building the night of the escape. She said she was threatened by Kerns, who

appeared with Beeman as an alleged hostage, at her station. Mrs. Puderbaugh said she feared being taken as a hostage and locked herself in a room until the inmates and Mrs. Beeman left.

Mr. Huffman, who was the supervisor the night of the escape, said he had left the building to purchase dinner to bring back to the jail when the escape occurred.

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