Report: Fired jailer harassed womenPublished 9:53am Monday, October 1, 2012
The investigation into fired Freeborn County jail administrator Marcellino Peña began after a 19-year-old woman reportedly walked off the job in June.
The investigation report alleges Peña, 45, put on a latex glove and told her he had to conduct a physical exam on her since she had called in sick the shift before. Her supervisor said she assumed that instead of putting up with it, the employee quit.
More than a dozen employees interviewed as part of an investigation into Peña’s actions at the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office said they felt threatened, intimidated or sexually harassed by the administrator. In response, he told investigators he had not performed any work in the past 18 months. As for the glove incident, he said his girlfriend, who also worked at the jail, was present. Peña told investigators she grabbed the latex glove and made “a joking gesture.”
Peña, who was terminated last month after the completion of the investigation, had worked with the Sheriff’s Office since 2004. Most recently, he oversaw the Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract in the Freeborn County jail.
The Tribune on Friday obtained a copy of the investigation report, which detailed interviews with a series of both current and former employees and shed light on why the administrator’s job was terminated.
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 — even helping him apply for new jobs.
Chief Deputy Glen Strom, who conducted the interviews and investigations, said one employee described the situation as a “hostile work environment filled with secrets, intimidation, sexual harassment and harassment.” Another stated he “manages by fear.”
Other female employees stated Peña would put his arm around them, making them uncomfortable, and described how he would sometimes ask some of the employees personal questions about their marriages and sex lives.
One woman alleged he once rubbed his arm on her clothed chest.
Just days prior to an ICE inspection, he reportedly tried to force a county-paid medical crew to administer tuberculosis tests, which must also be conducted along with a medical examination. The medical crew was not permitted to give physical exams to non-inmate patients while at the jail.
In another instance, Peña reportedly forced two female employees to leave the jail and go to McDonald’s with him, where he there pressured them to support former Sheriff Mark Harig.
Several of the employees stated Peña threatened them with their jobs to do so, stating their jobs were at risk if Harig was not re-elected.
Peña could not be reached by phone for this story.
However, in an interview with Strom, Peña denied many of the accusations, describing them as a “witch hunt.” He said he was the last of Harig’s supporters and he felt the supporters of current Sheriff Bob Kindler were out to get rid of him.
“I don’t think Bob’s out there and saying, ‘Hey I need to burn this guy at the stake,’ but I think his supporters are coming to him,” Peña said.
He denied any of the sexual harassment allegations because no one ever told him to stop.
He also reportedly admitted to watching movies in his office while on the job but stated during the past 18 months, his job duties had been taken from him. He said he was told to take direction from the other jail administrator, Steve Westland.
Before Peña was let go, there were two jail administrations. Westland was in charge of operations, while Peña handled security.
“Every day from that day forward, I would go in to Steve Westland’s office, and I would ask him, ‘Is there anything I can do for you today, is there any duties I need to perform?’” Peña said. “He would say no. I’d say, ‘What would you like me to do?’ He says ‘Well, go to your office and I’ll let you know if I need anything.’ For 18 months, I’ve gone to that office for eight hours a day and not performed a single duty.”
Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said Peña made an annual salary of about $58,000. Peña has not been charged with any crimes, and Kluever said he knows of no pending civil litigation.
Kindler declined to comment.
The Peña investigation spans 300 pages. Look to the Tribune on Tuesday for additional coverage of what’s in the investigation report.