The state Department of Public Safety has opened an internal affairs investigation into actions taken by its Departmental Human Resources Officer Shelley Nobriga Harrington, a longtime correctional system administrator who allegedly pressured a subordinate to change an investigation report.
Harrington is the subject of a complaint by the United Public Workers and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which last month accused Public Safety officials of turning a “blind eye to serious concerns and complaints about Harrington’s misconduct.”
Both unions also sued the department in Honolulu Circuit Court last week alleging that Harrington sent out a mass email on Aug. 19 that disclosed the Covid-19 vaccination status of 260 Public Safety staff members.
Harrington did not have permission or consent to disclose that information, and the department likewise did not have “authorization or consent to share (the employees’) private, confidential, medical health information and/or medical status,” according to the lawsuit.
The Department of Public Safety confirmed in a written statement that it had received the complaint letter from HGEA and UPW, and “is looking into the validity of the complaints.” Harrington declined to comment on the allegations.
The department also refused to comment on the lawsuit alleging that Harrington had improperly disclosed the vaccination status of staff members in an email. “We have been advised not to comment on possible pending litigation,” it said.
The mass email Harrington sent on Aug. 19 was supposed to notify both unvaccinated and vaccinated Public Safety employees that they needed to comply with the state’s weekly Covid-19 testing requirement. However, the message displayed the email addresses of all of the recipients, which the lawsuit claims was a breach of confidentiality.
Harrington is a lawyer who has held a number of high-level positions in the correctional system, including administrator of the Intake Service Center Division, inspection and investigation officer for the department and litigation officer in the department’s Litigation and Coordination Office.
In each of those jobs Harrington reported to Nolan Espinda, who was director of the Department of Public Safety until he retired last year. Harrington and Espinda were also romantically involved for a time and had a child together.
Harrington in 2015 was named deputy director of the department in charge of the corrections division but stepped down a week later after the appointment was questioned by others in the department. She is now married to Scott Harrington, who is warden at Halawa Correctional Facility, the state’s largest prison.
UPW and HGEA filed their complaint about Shelley Harrington in an Oct. 18 letter to Public Safety Director Max Otani, raising concerns about a decision by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board last spring in the botched firing of a corrections officer at Maui Community Correctional Center in 2018.
The board ruled on March 23 that Harrington’s testimony in that case was “self-serving, contradictory, inconsistent with other evidence in the record, and defied credibility in several respects.” The board ordered the reinstatement of the corrections officer with back pay.
That case grew out of a tip from a prisoner who alleged that Adult Corrections Officer Daniel Edward Parker would likely attempt to smuggle contraband into MCCC on Sept. 8, 2017.
When Parker arrived at work that day, he was summoned to a captain’s office and told he needed to give his consent for a strip search. Two other officers were present, including one who was recording with a video camera.
This was to be the first MCCC strip search of a staff member, and there is no department policy that deals with use of a video camera in a strip search, according to the labor relations board’s decision.
Parker denied he was carrying contraband but refused to consent to what he believed would be a videotaped strip search. Parker was placed on leave without pay and escorted off the jail property, and the department launched an investigation into the incident.
The investigator assigned to the case concluded that Parker was never directly ordered to submit to the strip search, according to the labor relations board’s decision. But Harrington intervened and instructed the investigator to reconsider, which was not standard procedure in disciplinary cases.
She told the investigator to focus on the fact that Parker was defiant, and “to revisit his finding that there was no insubordination,” according to the ruling. The investigator then “revised his report to reach the conclusion that Parker had been insubordinate,” and Parker was fired for insubordination.
The labor board reversed that action in a 71-page decision, ruling that Harrington’s testimony in the case “appeared to be an obvious and deliberate attempt to influence an investigation to salvage a bungled strip search and a predetermined disciplinary consequence.”
The board also found there had been no reasonable suspicion that would have justified a strip search of Parker in the first place, and concluded that Harrington “agreed that the inmate’s account could not be credited, and there was no reasonable suspicion for the search.”
Parker declined to comment on the case, but the HGEA and UPW union leaders declared in their complaint that Harrington engaged in an “unprecedented move” when she met with the investigator “and essentially ‘strong-armed’ him into changing his report.”
“Employees at PSD are investigated, put out on leave pending investigation, and disciplined up to and including discharge for allegations that pale in comparison to the improprieties that Harrington, the current DHRO, has engaged in,” according to the Oct. 18 letter from the union leaders.
The letter was signed by Randy Perreira, executive director of HGEA, and Liz Ho, who is administrator of the UPW.
The letter from the union leaders also cited other complaints about Harrington that were provided to the department in a separate packet that was submitted anonymously in May. That packet included documentation of the Parker firing, but no other details were given about that complaint.
Otani replied to the union leaders in a letter dated Oct. 22 that an internal affairs investigation was opened into the anonymous complaint, and the investigation is ongoing.
Allegations of wrongdoing by Harrington in the Parker case will be covered in that internal investigation “as appropriate,” Otani wrote.
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