MADISON – State officials fired two top prison officials and five others Thursday over the April escape of two inmates.
In addition to the seven firings, Warden Susan Novak retired in the midst of the internal investigation at Columbia Correctional Institution. Three others also resigned before the review was completed and another employee was suspended for five days without pay, according to the Department of Corrections.
The department did not release the names of all of the employees but confirmed Deputy Warden Lucas Weber and Security Director Brian Gustke were among those who were let go Thursday.
“These are tough decisions that bring pleasure to no one in our agency,” Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr said in a statement. “But I cannot tolerate job performance that compromises public safety.”
Inmates Thomas E. Deering and James R. Newman escaped the Portage prison in April, likely by jumping over two security fences. They were apprehended a day later after they visited a homeless shelter in Rockford, Illinois.
Deering had been convicted of kidnapping, burglary and three counts of second-degree sexual assault in Milwaukee County in 2001, according to online court records. Newman had been convicted in Jackson County in 2016 of kidnapping, escape and theft.
The escape resulted in numerous prison employees being put on paid leave, including the prison’s top three leaders.
Novak retired in June as the internal investigation continued. She had been making about $107,000 a year.
Weber was making about $95,000 and Gustke about $80,000 when they were let go on Thursday.
Larry Fuchs has been serving as interim warden since Novak and the others were put on leave.
Two of those who were fired Thursday were in their probationary period as employees and cannot fight their terminations, according to the Department of Corrections. The other five who were fired and the one who was suspended without pay can appeal their discipline.
One other employee was investigated but was cleared of wrongdoing.
At least some of the employees who were investigated had worked in the prison’s kitchen, according to the Department of Corrections.
More than 90 interviews were conducted as part of the personnel investigation, which was conducted by an internal affairs division that was established in December 2019. The department’s previous internal affairs unit had been disbanded in 2017.
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