Lawyer questions the firing of jail admin

Published 6:00 am Sunday, November 25, 2012

A former Freeborn County jail administrator fired in September is asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to review his termination.

Marcellino Peña is alleging the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office violated his constitutional rights in the investigation against him and in his termination, according to his lawyer, Richard Williams Jr. of St. Paul.

Williams said Peña is requesting the court order access to the full investigation against him.

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“He demanded the information on a number of occasions but did not get it,” Williams said.

He said county officials gave a copy of the investigation report with redactions to members of the news media who requested it but his client was not even able to get a redacted copy.

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

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 — even 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.

Williams said the Sheriff’s Office, and ultimately Freeborn County, did not comply with state statute in holding a hearing before Peña’s termination or give him the opportunity to confront witnesses against him.

“Our view is that he’s entitled to those protections,” Williams said.

In a previous interview with the Tribune, Peña denied harassing any of the employees but instead stated he simply held people accountable. He called the sexual harassment allegations an “outright lie” and described the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever declined to comment on the allegations.