See more of the story

A Minnesota corrections officer fired last spring amid allegations that he bribed a prisoner to assault her cellmate is back at work after an arbitrator reversed the decision.

The ruling concluded that Minnesota Department of Corrections officials failed to prove such an attack ever occurred and lacked just cause to fire Sgt. Daniel Boegeman, a longtime officer at Shakopee women's prison.

"I'm disappointed the decision came down as it did," said Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, who added that the department has little recourse other than to let Boegeman return to his previous post. "We believe the action we took was warranted based on the totality of what we learned through the investigation."

Boegeman, 51, is now the second guard to be reinstated in his old job at the prison after being fired in the past year.

The two are among the four officers fired last April, in the aftermath of a female inmate's sexual assault allegations against another staff member, Jeffrey C. Anderson. Schnell fired Boegeman and two others for failing to disclose their knowledge of the sexual encounters and, in some cases, for retaliating against those who complained, according to disciplinary records obtained by the Star Tribune.

Under Minnesota law, prisoners cannot legally give consent to sexual activity, largely due to the uneven power dynamic between officers and inmates.

The alleged victim told administrators that guards began intimidating her in an attempt to keep her quiet about the sexual liaison. She reported that officers shot rubber bands at her, placed tape over her mouth on her identification badge and limited her privileges behind bars.

When a special investigator assigned to the case moved the woman to another unit, Boegeman called her a "problem inmate who would foment lies for a new audience to gain special treatment," arbitration records show.

But investigators were able to verify several of her claims. The department fired Officer Brent Lake on April 30 — after several months of paid leave — on the grounds that he "intimidated, acted unprofessional and created a safety risk for offender(s)," altered IDs and failed to report this behavior, according to personnel records.

Lake negotiated a seven-day suspension without pay and returned to his post May 11.

DOC officials also fired Boegeman, a 25-year employee, after a monthslong inquiry found that he engaged in four separate acts of alleged misconduct, the most serious of which involved an assault bribe.

Boegeman, a Navy veteran, appealed his termination to the Bureau of Mediation Services, and both parties argued their cases over a two-day hearing in November.

Special Investigator Diana Magaard testified that the inmate accused Boegeman of offering to pay a former cellmate to assault her. The alleged victim joined that cellmate as she went to collect payment from Boegeman at the officers' shack, where he allegedly laughed and asked her if she preferred "noodles or hot Cheetos" as a reward, records show.

Later that day, the alleged victim showed up at Magaard's office with a black eye that appeared to be from a blow to the face. She denied being assaulted, instead claiming she suffered the injury during an accidental fall.

Although the attack was "not supported by obtainable evidence," Magaard and then-Warden Tracy Beltz each testified that they believed the bribe had occurred because both inmates' stories matched so closely. Beltz classified Boegeman's misconduct as "among the most severe in her memory."

Boegeman vehemently denied arranging such an assault but admitted to three lesser code of conduct violations: breaching confidentiality with a prisoner about the investigation, inappropriately giving a colleague the middle finger during a training class and failing to properly dispose of inmate contraband.

On Jan. 13, arbitrator Stephen F. Befort ruled in Boegeman's favor, stating that the department had failed to prove its case.

In his decision, Befort said he could not reasonably assess the credibility of inmates because they didn't attend the hearing, but he cited their criminal histories as proving a "questionable reputation for veracity." He also noted that there was no clear motive for retaliation.

"It is difficult to believe that a longtime corrections guard such as Boegeman would risk his career by attempting to orchestrate a Mafioso-style hit on an offender without any basis for personal gain," the arbitrator wrote.

Boegeman was reinstated Jan. 18, following a five-day unpaid suspension. He declined to comment for this story. When reached by phone, his wife decried the investigation as a "smear campaign."

"The way he's been treated is disgusting," said Stephanie Boegeman. "This has been the worst year of our lives."

The Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a group of activists inside and outside of prison, lambasted the officers' return as a "slap in the face to women everywhere."

"Women incarcerated at this facility are fearful, disgusted, and feel violated," organizers said in a statement. "They are afraid to write the Commissioner in disagreement with this decision because these officers are known for their harassment of prisoners."

Boegeman's lawyer, Marshall Tanick, said prisoners should not be fearful of retribution because his client never took any retaliatory actions in the first place. Tanick believes Boegeman, who he says had no social relationship with Anderson — the guard accused of sexual misconduct — suffered from guilt-by-association.

"We feel it was a rather far-fetched charge against him," Tanick said. "The claims were totally baseless."

Collective bargaining agreements for rank-and-file officers prevent Commissioner Schnell from simply transferring Boegeman to a different facility, because each prison is represented by a separate AFSCME Local.

Christopher Wendover, president of Local 1988 at Shakopee prison, declined to comment when reached via e-mail.

Boegeman began working for Minnesota prisons in 1994 and was disciplined only one other time, receiving an oral reprimand for an "inappropriate conversation" with an inmate — the same whistleblower involved in his recent case, according to department personnel records.

His lawyer classified that incident as an innocent conversation about hailing from the same hometown, calling it a "small blemish" on an otherwise "superlative record."

Schnell said the case highlights challenges the department faces in creating a more respectful workplace and fears the alleged behavior will mar the reputation of roughly 4,300 other hardworking DOC employees.

"We understand the circumstances are far less than optimal. We too have concerns," Schnell said. "But we are doing everything we can to supervise and manage the situation."