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8/5/2012 6:01:00 AM
MCC's Kearns: Prisoner problems are over
Unsupervised inmate had sex with college employee, another got drunk on campus
The use of prison labor at MCC is under scrutiny after reports surfaced regarding the actions of unsupervised inmates. The inmates pictured here were working near the Kingman Airport Friday.
The use of prison labor at MCC is under scrutiny after reports surfaced regarding the actions of unsupervised inmates. The inmates pictured here were working near the Kingman Airport Friday.

Erin Taylor
Miner Staff Reporter

Mohave Community College President Michael Kearns said he has confidence in the use of prison labor on campus despite reports that prisoners had previously exploited weaknesses in the program to gain access to sex and alcohol.

Kearns said the allegations that surfaced more than three years ago were never proven and went so far as to call them "non-incidents," despite reports from the Arizona State Prison about a prisoner who confessed to having sex with an MCC employee in an empty classroom on the Bullhead City campus in 2009.

The prison also concluded that an inmate was more than three times over the legal limit of intoxication when he returned from the campus that same year.

The reports are part of the court record in the wrongful termination suit brought on behalf of now-deceased Marion "Matt" Purcell, a Kingman campus facilities manager employed for 17 years with the college before he was fired in October 2009.

Purcell died in his sleep Feb. 15, 2011, but the suit is being carried forward on behalf of his wife through Kingman attorney Douglas Sutherland.

Sutherland said MCC brass retaliated against Purcell after Purcell was openly critical of the college and its use and supervision of inmate labor following the on-campus death of a maintenance employee during the summer of 2009.

Purcell's notice of termination from MCC alleges that his firing was due, in part, to him sharing a sandwich in violation of the rules while on an errand to Home Depot a week after the death. Sutherland said the decision to take the sandwich incident so seriously doesn't make sense since the administration did not discipline the employees or supervisors involved in the sex and alcohol prisoner incidents.

"This was a retaliatory discharge," Sutherland said during a recent hearing in the wrongful termination case. "We believe Purcell was fired for a minor infraction when other individuals were not even reprimanded for more major infractions."

Sex on campus

Prison officials sorting through the outgoing mail found a letter in January 2009 that appeared to indicate that a prisoner in the labor program had sex with an MCC employee.

"I don't want to lose contact with you," the letter read. "You are so cool, and you've awoken a sexual beast inside of me I never knew existed. Tell me, am I going to get to experience you again?"

The letter instructed the woman how to respond so as not to arouse suspicion from prison officials.

The prisoner, who was incarcerated for three counts of burglary out of Pima County, admitted to having consensual sex with the employee in a vacant classroom on the BHC campus during a holiday break when no classes were in session.

The prisoner described himself as a hobby writer and said the relationship began after he gave the employee several chapters of an erotic story he had written.

"I had been without sex for a long, long time," he wrote in his statement to prison officials. "I couldn't resist the opportunity."

MCC President Michael Kearns said employees who do not directly supervise the inmates are not allowed to speak to the prisoners, with the exception of a "hello" or "good morning." This would have included the female employee, who worked in student services.

He said prisoners are supposed to be supervised any time they enter a building and are prohibited from using the phones or computers.

"There are rules, and they are black and white," Kearns said in an interview from his office late last month. "The prisoners will try to gain your trust. There is zero tolerance."

Although the woman is identified in documents, Kearns said that he could not remember her name or if she faced any disciplinary action for having a relationship with the prisoner. Sutherland, in his Purcell suit, maintains that there wasn't so much as a note put in the woman's file.

Kearns said that's because the college was never able to confirm the allegation of a sexual encounter. He said other employees could only verify that the woman and the prisoner spoke frequently at her desk.

He said he has never seen the letter that sparked the investigation in the first place and couldn't say when the employee left MCC or if she did so voluntarily.

Drunken prisoner

The labor program continued uninterrupted for the next three months until April 23, when prison officials said a prisoner returned from the BHC campus with a blood alcohol content of 0.23 percent. A report by prison staff says the prisoner "was staggering getting out of the van" after arriving at the prison around 4 p.m. and "was having trouble standing up."

In an email from BHC facilities manager Dan Worden to Kearns and MCC'S Executive Vice President Lynn Cundiff sent the day after the incident, Worden says the inmate appeared OK when he checked on him at 1 p.m.

"The only conjecture I might have is a potential medical condition exacerbated by the heat and working outside," Worden wrote. "It seems impossible that this inmate would have drank enough alcohol between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and appear normal on the ride back. Surely someone would have smelled something."

It was never determined how the prisoner got access to alcohol. The incident resulted in a three-day suspension of the labor program at MCC and the end of that particular prisoner working at MCC.

Officials weren't unfamiliar with prisoners trying to exploit their relative freedom on campus. Kearns said during his deposition in the Purcell lawsuit that there had been a similar incident on the Kingman campus four years prior when a prisoner had someone drop beer by the pond on campus.

Bullhead City Police were also called out to the BHC campus in September 2009 in regard to what a prison sergeant said was "a large quantity of illegal substances being introduced into the prison and an investigation that revealed the substances were being brought into the facility by inmates working all of the various Mohave Community College campuses."

Two drug dogs alerted during that search to a shelf where an inmate was storing his belongings inside a maintenance shop, as well as a water bottle being used by the prisoner. No drugs were found.

The prisoners are searched before leaving the campus and upon their return to prison to make sure no tools, contraband or other items are smuggled in, according to Kearns.

As with the incident of on-campus sex, no "Personal Incident Report Form" was placed in the file of the supervisor responsible for overseeing the drunk prisoner, according to Kearns' deposition.

A death on campus

Sutherland alleges in his wrongful termination lawsuit that his client was fired for openly criticizing the school in the wake of the death of a custodian on the Kingman campus.

That employee, Tibburio Valenzuela, 74, died July 7, 2009, after he was hit in the head by a 646-pound hydraulic press he and two prison laborers were moving out of a garage.

Purcell was called to the scene by other inmates and watched Valenzuela, his friend and an employee he had directly supervised for six years, bleed to death.

Purcell said Valenzuela was supposed to be doing light maintenance work and was instead instructed by the director of facilities to move the equipment with the prisoners. Valenzuela was not qualified to move the heavy equipment and was never authorized to supervise prisoners, the suit contends.

Sutherland said Purcell was openly critical of MCC's handling of the investigating into Valenzuela's death. Vice President Lynn Cundiff was the employee contact for the formal investigation by the Industrial Commission of Arizona. Sutherland says in his lawsuit that MCC made a conscious decision to shield Purcell from making statements to the commission.

According to court documents, Purcell was followed a week after Valenzuela's death by a prison official on July 14 and was alleged to have been seen sharing a sandwich with a prisoner while on a permitted errand to Home Depot. Purcell is said to have lied about the incident when questioned, according to MCC documents.

Prison laborers brown bag their lunch and MCC employees are not allowed to share food with them because of the issues that could arise, Kearns said. The prisoners are also not allowed access to vending machines but are provided water by the college.

Purcell appealed his termination to a board comprised of MCC officials. In a letter that board sent to Kearns, they said Purcell repeatedly ignored admonishments not to leave keys in vehicles to which the prisoners had access. Purcell also reportedly left prisoners unattended and did not supervise them while they were using certain tools in the workshop.

"Beyond each individual incident, this pattern demonstrates a lack of good judgment and interpersonal skills as well as a failure to follow directives," Purcell's notice of termination states.

Five of the seven incidents cited in the notice of termination occurred before September 2008, when Purcell received the college's "Dreamographer" award, which is similar to an employee of the month honor.

Sutherland said his client had no chance when he appealed to a board stacked with MCC officials. He noted that one of the individuals on Purcell's appeals board was the wife of another employee who held the same position as Purcell on the Bullhead City campus. When asked by Judge Lee Jantzen during a recent hearing in the lawsuit whether the board was fair or impartial, the attorney for MCC said that shouldn't be an issue.

"The board is not governed by rules of civil procedure," she said. "I guess what I'm trying to say, your Honor, is that it doesn't matter ... Was there some forum to respond? That's all that matters."

Kearns said he cannot comment on the lawsuit because it is still in litigation. He did say, however, that the appeals process has been changed since Purcell's firing.

Kearns didn't specify those changes and instead referred to the college's policies and procedures manual, which now says that an employee is entitled to appeal their termination to an independent hearing officer rather than a board made up of MCC employees.

Labor program

Kearns said employees get training 2-3 times a year on how to deal with the prisoners on campus. He did not say how much training those in direct supervision of the prisoners received, but Sutherland calls it "inadequate" and says it's nowhere near what correction officers at the prison receive.

There are around half a dozen prisoners working on any of the three Mohave County MCC campuses at any given time, Kearns said. MCC pays $0.75 per hour per prisoner, according to the contract. He said the prisoners are a valuable part of the maintenance department.

"As a result our buildings and grounds have greatly improved," he said. "It means that the backlog of work is no longer a backlog."

He said prison officials make surprise inspections and that the prisoners view the chance to be out of the prison facility a privilege that can be revoked for even minor violations of the rules.

Kearns added that the prisoners are not used on campus during the two weeks the college hosts the College for Kids program.

Kearns said that the sex and alcohol incidents could never be fully verified but that employees are constantly reminded that any violations can end the prisoner labor program for good.

"It's frustrating when there's a failure on someone's part," he said. "The program itself, when it works, it works for everyone."

Management and Training Corporation, which manages the privately-operated prison, said the prison provides two work crews who divide their time between working on all of the MCC campuses, as well as for the Golden Valley Fire Department and the cities of Kingman and Bullhead City.

MTC Spokesman Issa Arnita said that only minimum-security inmates are allowed to participate in the work crew program based on the Arizona Department of Corrections classification system. He added that the prison provides a correctional officer who monitors the work crews on a regular basis as well as making unannounced visits.

Arnita referred all questions on the MCC incidents to ADOC. The ADOC spokesman did not respond to an inquiry on the matter.

ICT - Mohave Electric WI_Power Boy 233x388
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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Article comment by: Former Employee & Former Student

As a former employee and student I can attest that in no way shape or form was Matt Purcell to blame for the death of Mr. Valenzuela nor was he to blame for the unsupervision of the prisoners. Simply put Matt and his crew were asked to do many tasks that were dangerous and some tasks that are legally questionable. When things went bad, Matt took the heat. The college administration needed someone to take the blame and it was easiest to let Matt take the fall. Matt was a dedicated employee and like many others spent many, many years working for MCC only to part with a slap in the face.

Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Article comment by: Student And Father

As a student for the last 3 years, I have never seen these men in orange supervised. As a Father, I worry about sending my daughters to MCC because of this. These prisoners are always there and I don't feel its safe for young women while they are there "working."

Having prisoners working on-campus is a bad idea.

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: Frederick D Williams

I would say the Att'y Gen'l should investigate this whole can of worms. But don't hold your breath.

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Henry

Matt Purcell worked with my management team for the years I served the college (2002-2007). In my judgment, Matt was an exemplary employee who gave his all, daily. Matt held a key position at MCC. Matt was our campus improvement leader. He did that which no one else had done...led our college-wide efforts in the renewal of all campuses' facilities and grounds.

Bucho, may God rest his soul...was a special man. He gave his all every day. He was a man's man.

To have lost both these good men as we did, is truly incomprehensible to me. In my opinion, when I resigned from the college, all seemed well...

The record will show that in October 2007, the college was in the best financial and college credit program shape in its history. New programs and new opportunities for students were our entire focus and our team rolled them out. They are in place now...and students completing them will have a future.

Matt and Bucho were major players in this turnaround. Employees that worked for MCC in those days deserve much credit, and today's students are the beneficiaries.

Tom Henry, Chief Executive Officer Emeritus
Mohave Community College

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: Connie Henry

After reading the article which appeared in the Miner on August 5, I feel a deep obligation to say a few words about Matt Purcell and what a wonderful person he was. I worked as a volunteer with Matt for nearly five years on landscape projects at Mohave Community College. Matt designed and oversaw the transformation of the campus to a more beautifully landscaped college. Not only did the students enjoy the well-maintained campus, but Matt worked to make the campus a place for the entire community. He loved Kingman.

Prisoners were almost always present during my work on the college landscape, and they were always respectful and hardworking. Matt was a great role model to many of these men because Matt was honest and straightforward in his management style. He treated all people the same: fairly and honestly.

During his 17 years at the college, Matt was a dedicated employee. He worked many weekends, was always ready to help on any project and would never do anything that wasn’t in the best interest of the college and those employees he supervised. It absolutely broke Matt’s heart when Bucho (Tibburio Valenquela) was killed on campus.

The world is a better place because of Matt. He was a wonderful person and is missed by so many especially his immediate family. The whole scenario is too sad.

Connie Henry

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: From A citizen's perspective

Why is there so much distrust and disdain for the college and the administration.  Simple.  Since this administration has been in power there have been more disgruntled students, employees, and citizens than ever before.  The administration is not concerned with what is best for the students, employees and community, but what is best for themselves.  Above all else they are concerned with their self-preservation and protection.  They weren't here when the college's motto was "Students First".

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Private prisons? Am I the only one who finds this concept a bit strange? Business profits from customers who are the customers for private prisons? I am no brain surgeon, no genius, got no college degrees, am a simple high school educated dummy, but if prison bed space is empty who looses? I read recently Arizona is shipping in inmates from out of state to fill these private prisons whom ultimately get Arizona tax dollars as their profits! Governor Brewer, Russell Pearce both have connections to the private prison industry, one has to wonder how much did they get under the table or above the table in donations to their political careers to push these agendas? Are they one day going to be on the private prison board of directors or stock holders? To bad we don't have real investigative journalists anymore in Arizona to figure out whats in the political closets!

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

I do love these posters who use the word "we" with gusto as if they represent me or that mythical mouse in their pocket! I speak for no one but me, myself alone! I swear its funny how some think they truly are in this mythical majority they deem exists which if only they could get them to come to their aid they will win elections, change the world! Its like the right wing just cannot get over the fact they are only 22% of the national electorate, 34% or so here in Arizona neither one is a 50.1% majority by any stretch of the imagination, hence we have these never ending cycles of attempting to get those who do not register republican to vote with them and agree with them sometimes it works sometimes not, even I fell prety once for ole Nixon! But swore fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on me! I either vote democrat or not at all and since neither candidate right now amazes me I just will sit this one out and the sky will not fall nor the world come to a end as it has every other time I sat one of these things out!

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: Edna Krabapple

Dan Youngman -
Your point is well taken. Why does KDM print this old news? Because it sells newspapers, and they must have an ax to grind?

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: Sure its News

@ Dan Youngman. Sure its news. This cat just got out of the bag. I will almost bet you money that there are many more incidents but MCC and MTC sweep them under the rug. Maybe we need a full inquiry. Read some of the other comments that say the inmates are still unsupervised, driving golf carts, doing donuts. Kearns is an incompetent President to say the least. See KDM story in the paper today, where there is smoke there fire.

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: one wonders why

The inmates are poorly supervised at the campus. During my classes, it was not unusual to hear them arguing and swearing and disrupting class.

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Article comment by: No Joke

I quit going to MCC after I was glared at in the mens room by a very intimidating convict

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Matt was my Boss

It was a pleasure to have Matt as my boss. He was a great guy that valued his employees and his job. Always, there to help. The college did him so wrong and need to be held accountable for such actions. SHAME ON YOU MCC!!!!!

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Dan Youngman

Is this news? This supposedly happened three years ago? Considering the inmates work on campuses every day and the reporter mentioned nothing later than three years ago, it seems like any issues have already been dealt with by the college.

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Anonymous From Kingman

Where is the MCC Board of Governors in all of this?  Evidently as long as they are not implicated they are content to sit back and do nothing.  The Administration at the college is not accountable to the Board or the taxpayers.  It's time for the Board to do the job the taxpayers expect of them and clean house at MCC or we must vote them out at the first opportunity.    We're tired of the overpaid incompetent Administrators stealing our money.

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Betty Stimson

WOW! I just happened across this article. Starting out it sounded like ho-hum story. I'm Still amazed sometimes at how all of Kingman seems to do business - mostly about 20 years behind the times. Complete with Strong Arm Bosses...Good Ol' Boy mentalities. But...
The comments below from people who were there, or had experienced it in the things mentioned in the article IS the news here!!
I recently left employment with the County Admin Bldg - I just have One Question. Are Kearns and Walker related? I'm just asking. Seems like there's a pattern here.
I had to keep scrolling back up to see if they were still talking about MCC or Cnty Admin - The comments of some of the ex-MCC employees were expressing exactly what I have said about trying to be an employee at the County Administration Bldg. The department heads, the higher (BOS)management use fear and threats of firings and everyone knows the walls have ears - what you say to anyone will go straight to disiplinary action. Never state your mind or have an opinions. Yep reading this article was just like Deja Vu all over again.
Thanks for Listening

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Another Current MCC Student

@ MCC Lead by Liars

You forgot to mention that the coercion, fear, and manipulation are also used to control the students.

Don't question anybody about anything or you could find yourself on the wrong end of trouble with your admissions or financial aid paperwork.

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Nice Chuckle

@Ko Tay

"Most of the drugs going into the prison are being taken in by the officers."

Since I have many family and friends that work there, I challenge you to prove your statement. I somehow bet you can't.

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Very Interesting

@ "love the locals". "Distort the focus of the story". What story? The story MCC has told or the facts? No one wants to take responsibility where responsibility is due. MTC should quit being so lazy & cheap that they can't spare one corrections offcer to supervise! Sutherland or KDM did not create the issues. It remains to be seen if it was a legal termination, thus the lawsuit.

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: MCC Lead by Liars

@ Sick & Tired

MCC DOES NOT follow its own policy and procedures manual. Talk to former employees forced to resign, or who have been fired because they refused to resign. There is plenty of documented proof of violations and cover ups.

The new due process for employee appeals is a JOKE! MCC counts on the fact the dismissed employee, in most cases, cannot afford an attorney and this employee must represent themselves against MCC's lawyer in the hearing. Even if the hearing officer does by a MIRACLE find in favor of the employee (MCC has a contract and sets up the hearing officer for the “trial”), Kearns has the final say as to whether or not the employee gets his/her job back. READ the policy and procedures manual. It is RIDICULOUS.

The policy and procedures manual further states if the decision is NOT found in favor of the employee, the employee has 30 days to bring suit in a court of law for wrongful discharge. Arizona State statute (the governing law) lays out 1 full year! So, in MCC's rule book they are above the laws of the State of Arizona. MCC puts all this in writing and use it as a scare and manipulation tactic to stop people from SUING them for wrongful discharge.

MCC does not follow the progressive disciplinary procedure that is laid out, they discharge people, say it is for one reason that is put in the personnel file, and then at the hearing LIE and state that is for something completely different than the written documents in the employee file. These are documented facts.

Why do you think MCC’s turnover rate is so high?? Anyone who questions authority or calls out incompetence is FIRED! MCC management uses coercion, fear, and manipulation to CONTROL!

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Anyone working at 74 is way past their prime, as to prisoners working in public work its been a thing done since them old chain gangs of a bygone era, whine cry till the cows come home it will be going on long after the whiners of this world have gone to the great beyond!

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Common Knowledge

It is common knowledge that the inmates assigned to the Kingman campus run around in golf carts, doing as they please, with little to no supervision. About 4 weeks ago I was at the Kingman campus on a Thursday for about 4 hours while my wife conducted some business. During this time I witnessed the same two inmates tearing around the campus on a little green golf cart doing absolutely nothing except annoying people and needlessly burning valuable gasoline. I even witnessed them doing doughnuts in a dirt lot a one point. For Kearns to say that the prisoner problem is behind them is absolutely absurd.

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2012
Article comment by: Former Student

Hey look! ... A picture of the staff :)

Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012
Article comment by: MCC student

I have been a student at MCC for 2 years now and have NEVER seen the inmates supervised! they are always doing tasks on their own!!

Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012
Article comment by: random voice

Mike Kearns is a terrible President, it's plain and simple. He has failed to bring anything of any value to MCC and is simply collecting a paycheck from the tax payers. His performance or lack there of should determine his employment status and certainly his pay. There is simply no metric that can be used to justify his position. Under Kearns' supervision there has been a death, major problems with labor, and bomb threats. While these problems individually do not always point to a failure of leadership, these problems combined can only be attributed to a failure of leadership. Kearns is not an elected official but is given his position by elected officials, those currently in office should be replaced by people who can identify the root of the failure.

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