SCI-CT Muslim chaplain files federal lawsuit, says he was held against his will

A Muslim chaplain at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections and prison authorities after being allegedly held against his will at the prison

By Rob Wheary
The News-Item

WILLIAMSPORT — A Muslim chaplain at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections and prison authorities after being allegedly held against his will at the prison.

Mustafa Abuomar, of Mount Carmel, who is employed as an imam at the prison in Coal Township, filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the state agency, SCI-Coal Township superintendent Vince Mooney, and Majors Edward Baumbach and Dennis Brumfield, supervisors at the prison.

In his capacity as an imam, Abuomar was responsible for organizing observances and other activities for inmates of Muslim faith.

According to court documents filed by his attorneys, Kymberley Best and Timothy Bowers, of Sunbury, Abuomar was working in the prison March 5 when he was instructed to meet with the prison's chaplaincy director Aaron Duncan and Inmate Correction and Classification Manager Linda Chismar in a conference room.

Chismar said Mooney had ordered Abuomar to write a detailed statement about his interaction with other department employees, namely the prison's deputy superintendent Michael Miller and a corrections officer. Abuomar had previously filed a complaint with the DOC's internal EEO, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) about the officer making inappropriate ethnic, racial and religious slurs about Abuomar, who is of Arab ethnicity and Jordanian nationality, but is a naturalized American citizen.

Abuomar declined to write the statement since the matter was under investigation. Chismar called Mooney and had the superintendent speak to Abuomar. After Abuomar said he would not give the statement, Mooney allegedly shouted expletives over the phone and hung up.

Abuomar left the meeting and went to an office to report the incident to the DOC's EEO, then went to his own office to contact his attorney. While on the phone with the attorney, the complaint alleges Baumbach and Brumfield, while in full uniform, entered Abuomar's office and ordered him to hang up the phone and come with them.

When Abuomar said he was telephoning his attorney, Brumfield allegedly grabbed the phone from his hand, then grabbed Abuomar by the arm and ordered him out of the office, even preventing him from using the restroom.

"Brumfield and Baumbach told Abuomar that he was under their jurisdiction and ordered (him) to walk in front of them, but didn't give a reason or destination. Abuomar, afraid, complied," the complaint reads.

Abuomar said in the complaint that he was escorted prisoner-style through the prison, and in full view of the inmates, who jeered, screamed and taunted him because he was being escorted by two uniformed officers.

The complaint says Abuomar was taken to Mooney's conference room where he met with Mooney and other prison officials, and the superintendent ordered him to write a statement, but Abuomar stated he gave a statement to the EEO. Mooney allegedly accused him of being a liar and he and the deputy superintendent went to Mooney's private office and telephoned the EEO.

After hearing the EEO had all the information they needed, Mooney demanded that Abuomar furnish a handwritten statement immediately.

"Abuomar, who was not permitted to leave, agreed under duress to furnish a statement," the complaint reads.

Abuomar was so agitated at this point that he could not type and dictated the statement. Once again, he was denied the right to leave or use the restroom, but was granted the privilege to make one phone call with a three-minute time limit. Abuomar telephoned his attorney and related what was happening.

"Abuomar concluded his telephone call to his attorney under pressure as Brumfield grabbed the telephone from Abuomar's hand," the complaint reads.

After the statement was finished, it was taken to Mooney, who then called Brumfield and said the superintendent did not like the content. Baumbach told Abuomar that the next morning, Abuomar would rewrite the statement to Mooney's satisfaction. He was then permitted to leave and escorted prisoner-style from the facility.

"As a direct and proximate result of the conduct of Brumfield, Baumbach and Mooney, Abuomar has suffered lost wages, emotional duress, pain, humiliation and has incurred medical and counsel fees," the complaint reads.

The imam accused those at SCI-Coal Township of violating his civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and accused the DOC of denying his rights, and violating state laws on battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violating the Whistleblower Law and false imprisonment.

Abuomar, Best and Bowers are asking the court to award compensatory damages, punitive damages, counsel fees, costs and interest together with such equitable relief to prevent a recurrence of the defendants' conduct.

When called for a response, Department of Corrections press agent Sue Bensinger said Friday the department does not comment on pending litigation. Mooney was not available when contacted Friday afternoon for comment.

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