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ALBANY, NY. - The head of internal affairs at Rensselaer County Jail filed a federal lawsuit this week accusing top county officials, including Sheriff Jack Mahar, of violating his rights and causing his severe, job-related stress, in part, when they allegedly prevented him from doing his job.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by Lt. James Karam and Karam's wife, Lisa. Karam was placed on unpaid sick leave several months ago. His lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, seeks unspecified compensation, including back wages.
Mahar could not be reached for comment.
Karam accuses the sheriff of blocking his request for disability and refusing to pay him accrued sick and vacation time. The claim also alleges Mahar declined to allow Karam to receive sick days donated to him by other employees, which had been a practice for many years.
The federal lawsuit is part of a pattern of unrest at the jail that includes allegations of official misconduct, criminal acts by jail officers and civil rights violations.
In May, the parents of a Melrose girl filed a federal lawsuit alleging Mahar was aware that jail employees routinely accessed the confidential medical records of correction officers who missed work due to illness or injuries.
The sheriff denied the allegations. An investigation indicated the girl's medical records were viewed at least twice from a computer used by nurses at the jail to review inmates' hospital files. The girl was treated at Samaritan Hospital after being bitten by a dog owned by a correction officer who was her neighbor and had been sued by the girl's parents.
In June, a jail sergeant was arrested for the second time in four months when he was charged with improperly using a law enforcement database at the jail to check the criminal history of a Florida man acquainted with his ex-girlfriend.
And in April, an administrative law judge with the state Division of Human Rights issued a ruling in favor of a former female sergeant who endured grueling harassment by a clique of guards known as the "Boys Club," according to court records. Karam, in his lawsuit, said he was treated harshly after testifying at the trial of the female sergeant, Lora Abbott Seabury, including giving an account that supported her side.
After the sheriff obtained a copy of a transcript of Karam's testimony, the sheriff's "attitude and treatment toward (Karam) escalated and changed for the worse," the lawsuit states.
Karam's claim alleges he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that the county has blocked his efforts to obtain a benefit under Section 207-C of New York's General Municipal Law which if granted would allow Karam to collect his full pay and benefits, untaxed, for an indefinite period until he officially retires or is declared medically unable to return to duty.
He also claims that he suffered added stress as a result of jail superiors making derogatory statements regarding his Arab ancestry.
Karam's lawsuit targets several current and former county officials, including Mahar,Undersheriff Patrick Russo, county Executive Kathleen Jimino and Ruth Vibert, the former chief of corrections at the jail.
In March, Vibert filed a claim alleging she was fired by Mahar after refusing to shred documents or retaliate against a jail officer who had filed a criminal complaint accusing a sheriff's sergeant of workplace violence.
Vibert was hired to the $85,078-a-year job last year as part of the sheriff's effort to clean up the facility's image following a series of earlier scandals.
PUBLISHED: August 23, 2013
BY: timesunion.com - Brendan Lyons