CO denied unemployment comp after inmate tried to use his radio to escape

Officials said Virgil Carter was under orders to always lock his office door and keep his radio with him at all times


By Matt Miller
The Patriot-News

DOYLESTOWN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A prison worker who violated policy by failing to lock his office door and by leaving his radio unattended doesn’t deserve unemployment compensation after being fired for the safety breaches, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Tuesday.

Judge Ellen Ceisler noted in the court’s opinion that an inmate tried to use Officer Virgil Carter’s abandoned radio for a prison break.

According to Ceisler, Carter, a food service officer for the Bucks County Department of Corrections, was under orders to always lock the door of his office in the prison kitchen and to keep his radio with him at all times.

Prison officials said Carter didn’t obey either rule on Jan. 3, 2019. Instead, they said he left his office door wide open and left the radio lying on his desk when he left the room. Video of the incident showed an inmate walk into the wide-open door of the office, grab the radio and try to talk central control into unlocking the prison’s doors, Ceisler wrote.

Carter claimed he had been having difficulty trying to change the radio’s battery when he left it on the desk and rushed to deal with a disturbance, the judge noted. Carter insisted the lock on his office door was broken.

Prison officials, the state Unemployment Board of Review and the state judges didn’t believe him. Ceisler cited testimony from prison officials that Carter, a 16-year-employee of the prison, should have needed only a few seconds to change the radio’s battery.

They said the lock on his office door had been fixed, and that in any case other officers had been able to lock it by shutting it tightly. Nor was there evidence backing Carter’s claim that he rushed to handle a disturbance, Ceisler found.

She rejected Carter’s contention that he was guilty of mere negligence. Instead, Ceisler agreed he had committed willful misconduct by intentionally disobeying prison rules and therefore had forfeited his jobless aid.

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©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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