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Editorial: Union goes to bat for accused rapist

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Correction: This editorial has been modified. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office so far has not given an explanation for why it took three years to obtain a grand jury indictment against Chambers. They did, in fact, produce a statement. There will be a story in Tuesday’s Journal. The earlier statement has been removed.

Metropolitan Detention Center guard Torry Chambers is still on the payroll. Still gets a paycheck courtesy of the taxpayers. That’s despite a nearly $1 million settlement Bernalillo County paid in mid-2012 to three female Metropolitan Detention Center inmates who more than three years ago accused him of rape.

And those checks are likely to keep on coming despite the fact that Chambers, at last, has been indicted on eight counts of rape.

The county actually did try to move Chambers out of his job after rape allegations surfaced. But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents corrections workers, successfully filed a grievance, and he was moved to an all-male unit where he remained until September 2013.

Then, another female inmate accused him of rape. So he’s been on paid leave ever since as he waits for the slow wheels of justice to turn.

And slow doesn’t begin to describe their movement in this case. It took three years plus to obtain a grand jury indictment against Chambers.

Finally, last week, Chambers was indicted on six charges of rape of an inmate and two charges of second-degree rape for allegedly using his authority as a corrections officer to coerce inmates into sex or for helping another inmate to rape fellow MDC inmates. (That inmate was a former prison guard who was in MDC facing his own rape charges, for which he was later convicted.)

The rapes Chambers is alleged to have committed occurred between September 2008 and October 2010. In December 2010, the inmates came forward.

At first Chambers was put on unpaid leave. But an internal investigation found no evidence that he violated a jail policy, which a jail spokeswoman said is the only reason, other than a conviction, that he could be fired.

The union cited a clause in its contract that does not allow for unpaid leave. So, it would seem, moving an accused rapist away from his prey and off the payroll is subject to union negotiations. In 2012 the county allowed Chambers to work in an all-male cell. But after the fourth inmate accused Chambers of rape he was put on paid leave.

The public should be outraged both over how long it took for charges to be brought and because of the conditions under which Chambers is being paid for not working. You can’t really blame AFSCME. Its job isn’t to protect inmates or the public. Its job is to advocate for its members. That’s what unions do.

Jail officials are pursuing their options to see if Chambers can be fired now that he faces charges, but the public employee unions have the upper hand.

Who knows how long taxpayers will continue to be subject to this outrageous situation as this legal drama plays out.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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