Seven Arrested Lackawanna County Prison Guards Free On Bail
SCRANTON — Seven current and former Lackawanna County Prison guards arrested this afternoon on charges of sexual abuse at the jail are free on bail. Troopers arrested former prison guard John J. Shnipes Jr., 42, of 115 Simpson St., Archbald, at his home. Shnipes is a former Archbald councilman who lost his seat in 2017. He didn’t say anything as troopers led him by his arms to their vehicle and declined comment later when he was escorted out of the state police barracks in Dunmore. Charges against Shnipes, 16 in total, include involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and institutional sexual assault. State police arrested George T. McHale, 50, of 513 Florin St., Scranton, and Jeff Staff, 42, address unknown, at the jail. Both were taken away in handcuffs and escorted to marked state police vehicles. Correctional officers James J. Walsh, 51, Paul J. Voglino, 45,Mark Johnson, 53, and George R. Efthimiou, 50, also were arrested. Walsh has been on paid administrative leave. He is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by forcible compulsion and by threat of forcible compulsion, according to a court docket made public late this afternoon. Voglino is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by forcible compulsion and threat of forcible compulsion. McHale is charged with institutional sexual assault, indecent assault without consent and indecent assault by threat of forcible compulsion. Johnson is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by forcible compulsion and threat of forcible compulsion, institutional sexual assault, indecent assault and harassment. Efthimiou and Staff are both charged only with institutional sexual assault. The dates the offenses are alleged to have occurred range from January 1999 through 2011, according to publicly available dockets. State police arrived at the jail after 2 p.m., not long before shift change, and acted with silent efficiency. Both McHale and Staff were visibly surprised. McHale’s eyes stared forward. His face was a pale mask of shock. Staff wanted a Times-Tribune photographer to stop taking pictures. The state police didn’t react. The camera kept clicking. Warden Tim Betti said no warning of the arrests was given but he could “surmise” what the arrests were about. He stood in the parking lot of the jail as the state troopers put the two under arrest. He planned to address his staff after and was sure that morale would be low. “It affects my morale,” Betti said. “It’s a little dour...it matches the sky right now.” The arrests come six months after agents from the state Attorney General’s Office and state police raided the jail, the county work release center, 911 center and county administration building related to a grand jury investigation into alleged sexual abuse of inmates. County Judge James Gibbons, who is chairman of the county prison board, said Wednesday afternoon he did not know any details of the arrests. He said he was not notified in advance that the arrests would happen. Bernie Brown, a lawyer representing Staff, Voglino and Johnson called the charges “trumped up” and claim the guards’ accusers went to the attorney general and are telling stories to increase their chances for settlements in their lawsuits. The investigation arose from a civil lawsuit filed by a woman who alleged she was sexually abused by six guards from 2007 to 2016. Three additional women later joined the lawsuit and implicated other officers going back to 1998. The lawsuit, which is pending in federal court, contained allegations against prison guards the women said committed the abuse, as well as fellow guards who witnessed it but did nothing to stop it. It also alleges prison and county officials knew about the abuse and tried to cover it up. The accused guards coerced the incarcerated women into the sex acts by giving them extra privileges or threatening to take away privileges or place them restricted housing, the suit said. When they were free, the guards manipulated them into having sex by threatening to have their probation revoked. Two of the women alleged they tried to report the abuse to other guards and prison officials. Rather than help them, the guards harassed and berated them and actively helped the abusive guards conceal the assaults, the complaint said. The suit alleged most of the abuse happened between 1998 and 2013, but some as recently as last year. All seven arrested were taken to the state police barracks in Dunmore for interviews and then were arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Paul J. Ware at his office on West Pine Street. Their preliminary hearings are scheduled for 11:15 a.m. on Feb. 23. A press conference is slated for some time tomorrow, Trooper Mark Keyes, a spokesman at the Dunmore barracks, said. Walsh and McHale are free on $50,000 unsecured bail and Voglino, Efthimiou and Staff walked on $25,000 unsecured bail. Johnson posted a bail bond for $25,000. Shnipes posted a bond for $100,000. An attorney representing Shnipes said he is looking forward to his day in court. JEFF HORVATH, STAFF WRITER, CONTRIBUTED TO THE REPORT Check back for updates.