to S.C. Reporter 6/23/17
Christopher P. Conomy Assistant Attorney General.
DECISION OF THE MAGISTRATE
VAN SCHOYCK Magistrate.
Plaintiff, who at all times relevant was an inmate in the
custody and control of defendant, brings this action claiming
that employees of defendant at the Warren Correctional
Institution (WCI) defamed him. Specifically, plaintiff
alleges that Assistant Healthcare Administrator Jennifer Otto
told third parties that plaintiff was a thief, and that
employees Rhonda Stegemoller and "Sky" "gave
third parties the impression that Plaintiff is a sexual
pervert by telling them that Plaintiff 'gives [them] the
creeps' and that they do not feel safe around him."
The case proceeded to trial before the undersigned
At trial, plaintiff testified that he had a work assignment
as a porter in the infirmary at WCI, which involved cleaning
and housekeeping duties. At first the job went well and he
received no complaints about his work, plaintiff stated.
According to plaintiff, problems started to develop when
Otto, his supervisor, changed his normal work hours from the
second shift to the first shift. Plaintiff explained that
this came about because the first shift porter, an inmate
Jeffrey Kibler, quit and walked off the job one day, but Otto
followed up with Kibler and worked out a solution under which
Kibler would move to the second shift and plaintiff would
move to the first shift.
Plaintiff stated that he did not like to work the first shift
because he did not get along well with the corrections
officer who worked in the infirmary during those hours, and
because there was more work to do on the first shift.
Plaintiff stated that he told Otto that he did not want to
move to the first shift, but that she told him he could quit
if he did not like it. Plaintiff testified that Kibler was
treated more favorably and that it was not fair to him, and
that he complained to Otto about her accommodating
Kibler's wishes but not his own. Plaintiff stated that he
felt Otto or others were putting him in a bad situation
intentionally, and that after he complained about it the
staff treated him poorly. Plaintiff testified that the staff
talked about him behind his back and disrespected him.
It was plaintiffs testimony that even after moving to the
first shift, he got his work done and did not have a bad
attitude, but he also stated that the staff could not have
expected him to talk to them much when they treated him so
poorly. Plaintiff also stated that at times there were not
adequate cleaning supplies for him to use, and that it was
challenging for him to perform the job because he suffered a
broken left hand, being his dominant hand, around the same
time that he moved to the first shift.
Plaintiff testified that he was eventually warned by a
corrections officer that prison officials were going to
"come after him." About one week later, plaintiff
stated, his unit manager informed him that he had been given
a poor performance evaluation, a copy of which was presented
to him for his signature. Plaintiff related that the unit
manager also asked him some questions at that time about a
bag of syringes or needles that had apparently gone missing
from the infirmary. According to plaintiff, he knew nothing
about the needles and never had access to them, and any
accusation that he had stolen the needles would have been
Plaintiff testified that when he went to work later that same
day, he asked Otto why he was being accused of stealing
needles but Otto denied that anyone had accused him of doing
that. Plaintiff also acknowledged that he was never brought
up on any formal charges before the Rules Infraction Board
pertaining to any theft accusation. Plaintiff related,
though, that he believes word spread around WCI that he had
stolen the needles.
According to plaintiff, he tried to get a job somewhere else
in the prison but no one would hire him, and he felt that it
was because he had been given a bad name. To that end,
plaintiff testified that in addition to the matter about the
needles, he was informed by a corrections officer in the
infirmary that an employee there named Rhonda had said
plaintiff "was creeping her out." Plaintiff
testified that there was no basis for a comment like that
because he was respectful to the staff and left them alone,
other than to say hello when he reported for work.
Plaintiff stated that he was ultimately fired from his job,
but that defendant later transferred him to the Madison
Correctional Institution, where he obtained a comparable job
as a porter in the infirmary at that institution.
Jennifer Otto testified that she is employed by defendant as
the Assistant Healthcare Administrator at WCI, and that in
this role she is responsible for hiring and supervising the
inmate porters assigned to the infirmary. According to Otto,
plaintiffs job performance started out satisfactorily but
worsened over time, and the decline began long before
plaintiff injured his hand.
Otto testified that on September 3, 2015, she completed an
Inmate Evaluation Report in which she assessed, on a scale of
1 (poor) to 10 (excellent), several aspects of plaintiffs job
performance as follows: Attitude (2); Initiative (1);
Quality/Quantity (2); Attendance (5); Dependability (5);
Safety/Housekeeping (2); Increasing Knowledge/Skills (2).
Otto testified that she also wrote the following comments:
"Inmate Washington lacks motivation, initiative, and has
a poor attitude when given instructions. The quality of his
work is poor. Washington's shift and days off have
changed to weekend relief porter-Saturday and Sunday, 1st and
2nd shift. Even after this change in schedule the Nurses
report to me that he does not do any work unless instructed
exactly what to do." (Defendant's Exhibit B.) Otto
stated that she subsequently fired plaintiff from his job as
a porter in the infirmary because of his poor initiative.
According to Otto, she never told anyone that plaintiff had
stolen anything or engaged in any kind of inappropriate
sexual conduct. Otto explained that if she had suspected an
inmate of taking needles from the infirmary, the process to
be followed was to notify the shift supervisor, and ...