Peña: Investigation was biased

Published 9:52am Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A former Freeborn County jail administrator terminated last month is alleging he did not receive a fair investigation locally and said Monday he plans to file federal civil litigation.

Marcellino Peña, 45, said when he found out about a Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office investigation that alleges he committed harassment, sexual harassment and intimidation, he requested an outside agency, such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, be brought in to investigate to ensure no bias.

In the end, however, Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Glen Strom investigated the county policy violations, and the county’s human resources and affirmative action officer Bonnie Grieger investigated the sexual harassment allegations.

“It started out to be a biased investigation from Day 1,” Peña said Monday in an interview at the Tribune. “I truly believe if the BCA were brought in, this story would be different.”

Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler said county policy issues are handled locally and the human resources director was looking into the sexual harassment portion. No criminal or civil charges have been filed.


What are the allegations?

The investigation into Peña alleges former and current employees in the jail felt threatened, intimidated or sexually harassed by him.

Bob Kindler

Peña oversaw the food service and medical contracts for the inmates and at one time oversaw more of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract in the jail. He started in Freeborn County in 2004 as a corrections officer.

In addition to allegations of harassment, several of the employees accused Peña of watching movies in his office while on the clock, gambling and campaigning while on duty, and directing other employees to complete his personal tasks. That includes helping him apply for new jobs.

Other female employees stated Peña would put his arm around them, making them uncomfortable, and that he would sometimes ask some of the employees personal questions about their marriages and sex lives.

One employee said Peña “manages by fear.”


‘This is a witch hunt’

Peña was a supporter of former Sheriff Mark Harig, who served for eight years and hired Peña in 2004. Kindler defeated Harig in November 2010.

Mark Harig

Peña said when Kindler took office in January 2011, Peña’s responsibilities with the ICE contract were taken away and he was reportedly told to have no contact with ICE officials or county officials. He was to take direction from Steve Westland, the other jail administrator.

He questioned why Westland would not give him additional tasks to complete when he asked for things to do.

“The people in this county, the taxpayers, need to question why was I in my office doing nothing and getting paid for it,” he said. “The reason is not that I didn’t have the ability. The problem is they took it away because Steve Westland was intimidated by what I can do, my performance.”

Peña said he felt “horrible” about sitting in his office without work to complete.

He said his ideas and goals brought the federal ICE contract to Freeborn County and have helped bring $8 million to the county.

“This is a witch hunt,” Peña said. “I’m not saying I’m a victim. I’m saying I don’t deserve this. I’ve done some good things in this county.”

He asked people to question Kindler’s abilities as sheriff.

He alleged that the people who have spoken out against him did so either for personal or professional gain.

He said when he came to Freeborn County he did not know anybody, and he worked his way up. Though he supported Harig — even through a letter to the editor in the Tribune — Peña said when Kindler was elected sheriff, he tried to make amends.

He asked why Kindler wrote him a letter of recommendation in April and then three months later he was terminated.

Kindler said he was not aware of the allegations of the investigation when he wrote the letter and said he was not aware how Peña was spending his time until after the investigation started.


Response to allegations

Peña denies harassing any of the employees but instead states he simply held people accountable.

He also denied having a joking demeanor with the employees and said when he is performing business tasks he is “about business.”

He said the sexual harassment allegations are an “outright lie.”

“Bob likes to use the word ‘integrity,’ that he’s a man of integrity, but when it’s all said and done I want the taxpayers to know where the integrity is and where it lies,” Peña said.

He noted he has never had a disciplinary writeup in his 25 years in law enforcement until Kindler became sheriff.

“I’ve never seen the corruption and the dirty politics that play out in Albert Lea,” he said. “It’s not who you know or a degree or your education, it’s who you hunt and fish with here in how you hold your positions.”

He said many of these issues will be handled in civil litigation.

He declined sharing the name of his lawyer.

Kindler did not have a response to some of Peña’s direct comments against him.