Court upholds firing of jailer

Published 1:19 pm Monday, July 29, 2013

The Minnesota Court of Appeals announced Monday that it upheld Freeborn County’s decision to fire a jail administrator.

Marcellino Peña, who was fired in September 2012, had asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals last November to review his termination. He alleged the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office violated his constitutional rights in the investigation against him and in his termination. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that Freeborn County had not deprived Peña of his procedural due process when he was fired.

The county’s investigation alleged former and current employees in the jail felt threatened, intimidated or sexually harassed by Peña.

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Peña and his lawyer, Richard Williams Jr. of St. Paul, asked the Court of Appeals to review the termination. Peña requested access to the county’s full investigation. In November, 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.

As jail administrator, 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.

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 Sheriff Bob Kindler declined to comment.

The Tribune has placed a call to Peña’s lawyer. Look to the Tribune for more information as it becomes available.