Caught Off Guard

Sex harassment in the state prison system is no joke. So why is this man laughing?

That official, Haberman testified, was Deputy Warden Paolino--the same Joe Paolino who was caught on video last spring making light of harassment matters.

As the party is starting, new warden Richard Marr reads a letter, purportedly from a black receptionist who no longer works at the prison. The letter describes Paolino as "the monster who is responsible for my breakdown" and who "made my life a living hell" because the woman refused to meet him for a liaison at the Blue Spruce motel in nearby Fowler. When Paolino realizes the letter is a hoax, he erupts, "Goddamn, she was only here two weeks, and she was as ugly as a mud fence!" General laughter follows.

Cowles believes the video gives the lie to DOC claims that the agency has "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment. "They say they've got this bulletproof written policy, and they have all this training. But [Paolino] was the guy doing the training--and all the people in that room had the training. Somebody should have said this is not right."

Noting that several women were present at the party, Cowles adds, "Even a lot of the women who work there are part of the system. Either you go along with the program, in which case you're part of this salacious, trashy undercurrent among the workers there, or if you say anything about it, you're labeled as a troublemaker, as unstable, as a snitch and a rat. And they threaten that if you get into a jam with inmates, they won't be there to back you up."

The sendoff wasn't the first time the deputy warden's behavior has come under fire. One of the witnesses in the Haberman case, a veteran DOC employee who worked with Paolino at Fremont Correctional Facility in the 1980s, stated under oath that Paolino used a peephole in a false ceiling to spy on women in toilet stalls in the visitors' bathroom in order to arrange busts for smuggling drugs into the prison--and that he persisted in the practice despite a superior's order to stop.

Paolino has denied he ever did any such thing. But accounts of life at Arkansas Valley, offered by former employees who support Haberman or are contemplating lawsuits of their own, paint a picture of a male fiefdom--a place where testosterone cases shout "Hooters!" during training sessions and casually accuse women colleagues of performing oral sex on inmates; where heavyset female clerical staff are mysteriously transferred out of central administrative offices and replaced with shapelier models; and where Paolino himself was, on one occasion, spotted offering massages to secretaries during break time in the weight room.

The DOC's McDonough confirms that "disciplinary action was taken" as a result of the send-off party but declines to provide specifics. Another source claims that DOC director Ari Zavaras personally reviewed the videotape of the affair and reprimanded both Paolino and Marr. Whatever action was taken, it hasn't affected their job assignments; Marr is still the warden at Arkansas Valley, and Paolino is now the warden at Centennial Correctional Facility outside Canon City.

Disciplining the individuals directly involved in making Haberman's life "a living hell" is another matter. "We're not sure that litigation is over," says McDonough, adding that the state is still considering a possible appeal of the verdict.

And there's probably more to come. The department is already under a federal court stipulation to revise the way it handles matters relating to racial and sexual discrimination and must file progress reports with the court every sixty days. Other lawsuits are slowly making their way through the pipeline.

"The system was in very bad shape in the early 1990s with regard to mistreatment of minorities and females," says William Finger, who's represented several litigants in harassment and discrimination cases against the DOC. "There was clear underutilization of females, particularly at higher levels, and repeated stories of women being reluctant to come forward for fear of retaliation."

Finger believes the agency has improved in some respects, but like Cowles, he questions whether "zero tolerance" amounts to merely "paper compliance."

"The real question is why they didn't admit there was sexual harassment against Sandra Haberman and why they didn't support her," he says. "I don't believe DOC has done a very good job of policing itself.

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