By Kyle James   |  02-15-2018   News
Photo credit: Credit: Fernando Gregory | Dreamstime

John Shnipes Jr. abused his position of authority as a guard at Lackawanna County Prison and forced female inmates to perform oral sex on him while his coworker stood guard.

The female inmate thought she had to do what Shnipes wanted and recently told a grand jury about the incident during a probe investigating "systematic sexual abuse" at the jail.

The victim testified that giving into guards' sexual demands was how she survived her numerous incarcerations. The sexual abuse of female inmates became a "pervasive culture," according to the grand jury in a 28-page indictment.

The grand jury investigation summarized the testimony of 13 women who accused guards of forcing them to perform sex acts using their positions to "manipulate and dominate" female inmates for over a decade.

"Due to their status as inmates, the females were reluctant to report the abuse and harassment to anyone in authority," the grand jury said. "Fearful of repercussions or punishment, and simply wanting to survive, the females elected to endure the sexually oppressive environment as it appeared to be the ‘status quo’ at LCP on a day-to-day basis."

While the victims were not identified in the grand jury documents, the guards who have been charged were listed. They are:

George T. McHale, 50, of 513 Florin St., Scranton.

Jeffrey T. Staff, 42, 459 Wyoming Ave. Apt. 4, Wyoming.

James J. Walsh, 51, 209 Mosswood Road, Roaring Brook.

Paul J. Voglino, 45, 4 Rear Orchard St., Carbondale.

Mark Johnson, 53, 2213 Golden Ave., Scranton.

George R. Efthimiou, 50, 1121 Loomis Ave., Taylor.

Charges against all seven include inappropriate contact with female inmates. The grand jury discovered "countless" female inmates would be given favors including cigarettes if they submitted to sexual demands.

One female correctional officer testified that a female inmate in the late 2000's started screaming Shnipes had raped her when she saw him at in a corridor at the prison.

The female correctional officer wrote a report of the incident and hand-delivered it to the shift commander's office. No one at the jail ever contacted her regarding the incident and Shnipes continued working at the jail for years.

An attorney for Shnipes said, "We're going to take a good long look at those and mount an appropriate defense for Jim to make sure that the right thing takes place here. I've known him as an assistant district attorney, I’ve known him as an individual who had to work in law enforcement over at the jail for a decade and I would describe him as a family man and an upstanding person in the community."

All seven guards have preliminary hearings at 11:15 a.m. on February 23. They are currently free on bail ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

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