August 20, 2014

Elyria
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Cleared detention home worker sues, charges sexual harassment, malicious prosecution

ELYRIA — A Lorain County Juvenile Detention Home worker fired over a 2009 incident that left a teenage inmate with 17 stitches in his chin filed suit Monday against the county, the detention home and two of his supervisors for sexual harassment, malicious prosecution and inflicting emotional distress.

Former juvenile detention home corrections officer James Catalano confers with his attorney Kenneth Lieux during his trial for injuring an inmate in June 2010.

Former juvenile detention home corrections officer James Catalano confers with his attorney Kenneth Lieux during his trial for injuring an inmate in June 2010.

James Catalano returned to his job earlier this year after an arbitrator determined that he could find no wrongdoing on the part of the veteran detention home worker in the July 24, 2009, incident. A county judge cleared Catalano of a felonious assault charge following a trial last year.

According to Catalano’s lawsuit, he was the recipient of unwanted sexual advances from detention home Superintendent Lori O’Connor.

“Defendant O’Connor told (Catalano) that he would keep his job in exchange for sexual favors,” the lawsuit said. “After his refusal to submit to repeated requests for sexual favors and repeated complaints of the continuous sexual harassment, Defendants retaliated against (Catalano) and terminated his employment.”

The lawsuit said that Catalano complained about the sexual harassment to Director of Residential Services Dale Kaminski, but nothing was ever done. It also said that O’Connor “was incompetent because of her sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”

County officials should have been aware of the problem and taken action to protect Catalano, the lawsuit said.

Juvenile Court Administrator Doug Messer said Monday that he is unaware of any sexual harassment allegations that Catalano leveled against anyone at the detention home. He otherwise declined comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also said that Catalano never should have been charged with a crime for the incident in which the teenager was injured because “there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.”

Catalano was one of several employees working at the detention home when a fight broke out between inmates at the facility and he rushed into a common area to help stop the melee.

The inmates who weren’t involved in the fight were ordered up against the walls while the scuffle was broken up. The boy kept watching the fight despite orders from Catalano to face the wall.

When the boy refused to comply, Catalano walked over to him and grabbed hold of him in order to remove him from the common area, according to various accounts of the incident.

Catalano insisted that the teen, who, like Catalano is white, used a racial slur and struggled with Catalano. Several black inmates were nearby and Catalano told investigators he feared the slur could have created further problems. The teen denied using the slur.

In a surveillance video of the incident, Catalano appears to slam the teen into a table before turning him over to a co-worker who took him out of the common area.

Catalano’s union attorney has said that Catalano didn’t slam the boy’s face into the table, but instead the boy ran into the table while pulling away from Catalano.

In his decision ordering Catalano reinstated, arbitrator William Weaver wrote that Catalano satisfactorily explained his actions.

The teen was placed at the detention home after Elyria police arrested him for threatening a Lake Avenue man with a submachine gun loaded with the wrong ammunition. He later admitted to charges of disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon and received house arrest in the case.

The county’s insurance company settled a federal lawsuit filed by the teenager last year.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.