Corrections guard pleads guilty to arranging inmate beating
T.J. Roginski, a Dukes County House of Corrections guard accused of orchestrating with another guard the beatings of two inmates held in the Edgartown correctional facility where he worked, pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit assault and battery on Monday.
The conspiracy charge carried a maximum sentence of 2-1/2 years' imprisonment. In exchange for the guilty plea, Mr. Roginski of Tisbury, was sentenced to no jail time and straight probation for a year, during which time he may not be employed in law enforcement.
"This was a difficult day for Mr. Roginski. The downside of this is tremendous for him," his attorney, Sean Murphy, commented afterwards. "We were prepared for trial, but he made a decision that he felt was best for him and his young son."
Mr. Roginski and his fellow corrections officer, Michael Trance of West Tisbury, were accused by an inmate of recruiting another inmate to beat up another prisoner in a June 2003 incident. Assistant district attorney Lisa Edmonds read a description of a conversation between Mr. Roginski and Mr. Trance in which they discussed an arrangement in which an inmate, Jason Labbe, would hit another inmate, Paul Garcia of West Tisbury. Since Mr. Labbe punched Mr. Garcia shortly after the conversation, the crime of conspiracy concerned the agreement itself.
In 2004, a Dukes County grand jury reviewed evidence from an investigation into allegations made by Mr. Garcia and another inmate, Alan Thistle, who alleged he was beaten after complaining to jail officials about the attack on Mr. Garcia.
After an investigation, the grand jury returned indictments against Mr. Roginski and Mr. Trance, charging each with conspiracy to commit assault and battery. Mr. Labbe was also indicted on counts of assault and battery.
Mr. Murphy had filed a motion to suppress grand jury findings regarding the case, however assistant district attorney Lisa Edmonds said the state would not use the findings.
The hearing on Monday was delayed about 45 minutes as attorney Murphy conferred with his client, who appeared visibly shaken.
The Hon. Diane Kottmyer, Associate Justice of the Superior Trial Court, began the hearing by asking Mr. Roginski several questions to ensure he entered his guilty plea voluntarily.
After Mr. Roginski answered additional questions to determine that he understood his guilty plea, Judge Kottmyer asked Mr. Roginski if he admitted to having a conversation with Mr. Trance (in Mr. Labbe's presence) with the intention that Mr. Labbe would act upon the suggestion to hit Mr. Garcia.
His head bent forward and eyes downcast, Mr. Roginski did not answer at first. Glancing at his attorney, Sean Murphy, he hesitated for a moment, and then told Judge Kottmyer he would agree that a conversation took place, but not the exact one as outlined by Ms. Edmonds.
Judge Kottmyer restated the question, and explained that in order to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge, Mr. Roginski had to admit to having that particular conversation.
Again he hesitated, looking uncomfortable as he shifted and changed position in his seat. Appearing to struggle with his decision before answering, he conferred with Mr. Murphy, and then muttered a barely audible, "Yes."
Judge Kottmyer questioned again whether he made his guilty plea willingly, and he said yes. She also emphasized that he would not be penalized in any way if he requested a jury trial. He said he did not wish to have one.
In view of Mr. Roginski's clean record, Judge Kottmyer said she agreed with the sentence and the one-year probation. In addition to standard conditions for his probation, Judge Kottmyer specified that Mr. Roginski could not be employed in law enforcement for one year, as well. He also cannot have any direct or indirect contact with the victim or witnesses in the case. In addition, Mr. Roginski must report to a probation officer once a month and pay a $65 monthly probation service fee.
The judge asked Attorney Edmonds if the victim, Mr. Garcia, was present in the courthouse and would like to make a statement. In Mr. Garcia's absence, Ms. Edmonds said in her conversations with him, he was concerned about everyone being held accountable. After she reviewed the case with him, Ms. Edmonds said Mr. Garcia understood the disposition and agreed probation was acceptable, given Mr. Roginski's clean record. Mr. Garcia could not be reached for comment.
Commenting about the case a few days later, Ms. Edmonds said, "The district attorney's office feels this is a just result. The person who actually hit Mr. Garcia, Jason Labbe, has already pled guilty."
Mr. Labbe pled guilty on Aug 9, 2005, with an unagreed plea, meaning he offered his plea over the objection of the Commonwealth.
On the charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, Mr. Labbe was sentenced to 18 months in the house of corrections, suspended for 2 years. On the charges of conspiracy and assault and battery, Mr. Labbe was sentenced to six months in the house of corrections. Ms. Edmonds said the sentences were over the Commonwealth's objection. "We were asking for more time on both."
Ms. Edmonds also will represent the state in Mr. Trance's hearing, rescheduled from yesterday to next week. A knowledgeable courthouse observer said it was likely Mr. Trance would also enter a guilty plea.
The allegations of inmate beatings arranged by Mr. Roginski and Mr. Trance were first made public in a Boston Globe news story published on March 5, 2004. The story described a series of letters that Alan Thistle of South Boston, a former inmate serving an 18-month drug sentence on the Island, wrote to a special commission investigating the state's prison system, and to the Boston Globe.
In his six-page letter to Kathleen Dennehy, state acting commissioner of corrections, Mr. Thistle provided detailed accounts of beatings, intimidation by fellow prisoners, and a lack of response by jailhouse officials to his injuries and complaints.
In Mr. Thistle's account, he accused Mr. Roginski and Mr. Trance of recruiting inmate Jason Labbe to attack Paul Garcia, another inmate, as part of a dispute involving Mr. Roginski's girlfriend. Mr. Garcia said he had employed Mr. Roginski's girlfriend at his deli in West Tisbury, and there was a dispute over how much she was owed in her final paycheck after she left the job.
Mr. Garcia said Mr. Labbe attacked him as he came out of the shower area in June of 2003. Mr. Thistle alleged the attack on Mr. Garcia was set up to settle the score for Mr. Roginski.
In Mr. Thistle's letter to Ms. Dennehy, he said he told house of correction officers that guards had arranged for Mr. Garcia's beating. In response, he said Mr. Labbe started making threats against him, and jail managers then moved him into the same cell with Mr. Labbe.
After a series of threats, Mr. Thistle said Mr. Labbe attacked him on September 11, 2003. Despite a broken nose and a bleeding eye, Mr. Thistle said prison guards ignored his injuries for a week.
After Mr. Thistle made his accusations, Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack called for state police to investigate at the jail in November 2003. Throughout the investigation, Sheriff McCormack maintained that he took the inmate's allegations seriously but pointed out they were made by an inmate who might have his own motivations for making the charges.
Following a six-month state police investigation, Michael O'Keefe, Cape and Islands district attorney, convened a Dukes County grand jury to review the evidence. "The state police worked very hard - I certainly would compliment them on the work they did on this case," Ms. Edmonds said.
After hearing testimony from witnesses and examining evidence from the district attorney's office, the grand jury returned indictments against Mr. Roginski, Mr. Trance, and Mr. Labbe in May 2004.
Mr. Roginski and Mr. Trance were charged with conspiracy to commit assault and battery in connection with the June 2003 incident.
Mr. Labbe was indicted on two counts of assault and battery, one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and conspiracy to commit assault and battery in connection with the June 2003 incident.
Following the grand jury action, Sheriff McCormack suspended both guards without pay until the case was concluded. "I do not believe the inmate's charges," Mr. McCormack said at that time. He expressed his confidence in seeing them ultimately exonerated.
Mr. McCormack is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.