Side Effects

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"I think Joanie concocted all these things when she wasn't doing her job," he says, "and she was abusing her authority and her responsibility." But Shoemaker's boss, Donald Lawson, stands by the charges against Gusich. "The amount of misappropriation is not as significant as the act," Lawson testified.

Rose Hedgeman, a child psychologist and DOC supervisor whom Lawson assigned to review the paperwork in Gusich's case, concluded that he should be fired. "If I had put Mr. Gusich back in the workplace, that would be detrimental to the DOC," she testified. In a particularly bizarre moment during Gusich's hearing, Hedgeman also noted that after making her decision, "I had nightmares that Mr. Gusich was going to harm me."

Hedgeman's fears surfaced "only in the dream. I did not know him personally," she said. "I felt hunted in those nightmares."

"Is Mr. Gusich responsible for your dreams?" Gusich's lawyer, Bruce Pederson, asked her.

"Of course not," she replied.

(Gusich is an avid hunter, but, his wife says, he has killed only one trophy animal in his life -- a mule deer whose mounted, antlered head hangs on the family's living room wall.)

Before coming to the DOC, Gusich had worked as a pharmacist for Kaiser Permanente. He'd been fired there, too. In surprise rebuttal testimony, DOC defense attorney Lee Hegner brought in Bruce Emeson, Gusich's former supervisor at Kaiser, who said Gusich had been canned in 1993 for putting false arrival times on his time card and "creating a hostile work environment" by loudly drumming his fingers behind other employees' workstations and bringing in photos from the hunting trip where he bagged the mule deer. "Many of the staff in the pharmacy felt those pictures were veiled threats...that he may come into the pharmacy and shoot them," said Emeson, who nearly broke into tears when he said he feared Gusich would come after him and his family. Gusich finds the idea ludicrous and says he hasn't had the slightest contact with Emeson since he left Kaiser.

After he lost his $60,000-a-year job at the DOC, Gusich was denied unemployment benefits from the state. His lawyers challenged the decision, and a judge decided in Gusich's favor -- finding that the pharmacist may have been discharged in retaliation for disclosing information about shoddy practices at the clinic. Gusich decided to fight the harassment and misappropriation charges, too, and to claim protection as a whistleblower.

Within the next few weeks, the administrative law judge will decide if he deserves it.

In the meantime, Gusich and his wife, Bonnie, are living without income and health insurance; his unemployment benefits expired after six months. He has looked for a job at drugstore and grocery store chains, but with no luck. "I'm facing accusations that I'm a thief and a harasser," he says. "I have no references. I have no recommendations. How can I get a job?"

Gusich finds it odd that he was fired shortly before a scheduled June 1997 inspection of the DRDC by the American Correctional Association -- the self-proclaimed watchdog group of the prison industry. When the facility -- and its clinic -- passed the test, it was granted ACA accreditation for the first time, a plush feather in its cap and a credential that can protect the DOC in lawsuits. The DRDC will be up for reaccreditation next year by the ACA, which held its annual congress in Denver last week. (The DOC rolled out the red carpet for the ACA, inviting members for a tour of several Colorado prisons, including the DRDC.)

Gusich hopes he'll be back on the job the next time the ACA comes asking questions. He'd also like to be in line for the post of head DOC pharmacist when Schenk, now in that position, retires. "That's what I still want," he says. "So I can clean up this mess."

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Gayle Worland