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Prison guard’s firing for failing 3 attempts at weapon qualification upheld

CARSON CITY — A state hearing officer Thursday upheld the firing of a Nevada prison guard for failing three attempts at weapon qualification, even though other officers in the past were given one more chance to pass.

The decision by Mark Gentile affirms the February 2015 firing by the Nevada Department of Corrections of Martha Baeza, a nine-year correctional officer at Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in Southern Nevada.

It’s the second termination of a prison correctional officer upheld in the past month for failing to qualify with a weapon as required under state administrative regulations.

Corrections officers are required to demonstrate proficiency twice a year with three different weapons — a Remington 12-gauge shotgun; 40-caliber Glock handgun; and a .223-caliger Ruger Mini-14 rifle.

In September 2014, Baeza flunked proficiency with the Ruger. Ahlia Webster, another officer at Florence McClure, failed to qualify with the Glock. Webster’s termination was upheld by the same hearing officer on June 20.

The officers were denied a request for a fourth attempt to qualify, though such requests had been afforded to others in the past. Both were charged and ultimately terminated for inexcusable neglect of duty; failure to meet peace officer standards; and activity incompatible with their condition of employment.

“The testimony and evidence showed that as recently as July of 2014, at least two NDOC corrections officers were allowed a fourth attempt to qualify,” Gentile wrote.

But the hearing officer said there was nothing in regulations suggesting when a fourth attempt was appropriate, and the agency in August 2014 adopted a “concentrated effort” to comply with the strict provisions of three qualifying attempts only.

In both decisions, Gentile said he was “very troubled” by the allegations that Baeza and Webster were “somehow treated differently” from others who were allowed to take a fourth qualifying test.

“By its very nature, a state agency evolves over time, hopefully, in a positive direction,” Gentile wrote. “It appears as though in the recent years, an effort has been made to make the qualification and re-qualification processes more even handed and less subject to favoritism or exceptions.

“I believe that a strict adherence to the regulations is essential — if the processes are deemed to be unduly harsh, then the processes themselves should be changed,” he concluded.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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