A state hearing officer ruled that dozing off didn't justify firing a cook at Southern Desert Correctional Center.
Samuel Chesney was employed by the prison system since 1989. He was terminated after prison administrators caught him asleep on three different occasions July 30 and July 31 of last year. He also had a paperback book with him and was charged with not paying full attention to his duties by reading while on duty.
They said Chesney failed to make sure culinary refrigerators were properly secured.
Finally, he was accused of insubordination.
Prison officials say all of that conduct jeopardized the security of the institution and justifies terminating him from his job.
Appeals officer Bill Kockenmeister rejected the prison administration's arguments, saying they failed to establish he was insubordinate - defined as disobeying the directives of a superior. He said Chesney complied with the administrative directive to remove reading materials from his work area. And he said the evidence didn't establish that Chesney's conduct constituted a work slow down.
As for the sleeping accusation, Kockenmeister said the evidence is that Chesney "briefly dozed off while on duty." He said the administration failed to prove that conduct jeopardized the security of the institution, and pointed out that discipline for such violations must be progressive. Nothing in his file indicates he was cautioned or reprimanded for sleeping before the incidents on those two days.
"In this case, the employee dozed off on three occasions for only a brief period of time and thus, demotion or dismissal would not be appropriate," he wrote.
Kockenmeister said the most that conduct warrants for an employee with 16 years tenure with the state is a suspension.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.