Public Office Misconduct Offences, Penalties and the Law in NSW

Sahar Adatia.

Image credit: ChameleonsEye

 

A female prison officer in California has been sentenced to jail after she was caught engaging in a sexual relationship with an inmate.

Tina Gonzalez, 26, had worked as a corrections officer at Fresno County Jail since 2016, but was arrested in May last year after an investigation into her conduct revealed she had been pursuing sexual relations with one of the inmates.

The investigation sparked after the Sheriff’s Office was given a tip off about the relationship and that Ms Gonzalez had also smuggled a mobile phone into the county jail.

From here, everything went downhill for Ms Gonzalez, the investigation then also uncovering that she had also been smuggling in razors, which were believed to have been brought in to use as weapons.

As it turned out, the corrections officer was also alleged to have cut a hole in the pants of her uniform to make it easier to have sex with the prisoner while working at Fresno County Jail.

Making matters even more dire for the former officer, she was also accused of having sex in “full view” before 11 other inmates.

 

Former Boss Says Corrections Officer’s Action “Something Only a Depraved Mind Can Come Up with”

In July 2021, Ms Gonzalez faced court where Assistant Sheriff Steve McComas, her boss until she was fired, said that while in his 26-year-long career he had seen and heard some “pretty disgusting things”, his former employee’s behaviour was by far the worst.

“That is something only a depraved mind can come up with,” Mr McComas told the court.

“She took an oath, which she betrayed, and in doing so, endangered her co-workers’ lives.”

“That is something only a depraved mind can come up with.”

He added that in no way did Ms Gonzalez appear to be sorry for her actions, if anything persistently bragging about her offences.

“She has shown no remorse,” Mr McComas declared.

“She continually calls and has sexually explicit conversations with the inmate in question and boasts about the crimes she carried out.”

Meanwhile, Ms Gonzalez’s lawyer stated that his client was in a vulnerable position at the time of the offending given her marriage had ended.

He added that it was “never her intention to bring any harm or danger to the employees in the jail or anyone else in the jail”.

Ultimately, Ms Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity by a detention facility employee with a consenting confined adult, one count of possession of drugs or an alcoholic beverage in a jail facility, and a misdemeanour count of possession of cellular device with intent to deliver to an inmate.

During sentencing, Judge Michael Idiart condemned her actions, labelling them as “stupid”.

“I think what you did was terrible, stupid and you have ruined your career,” Judge Idiart said.

“But I also believe that people can redeem themselves and you have the rest of your life to do that.

“Good luck.”

Ms Gonzalez was sentenced to two years’ probation and seven months in the county jail.

It is understood her former boss had called for her to receive the maximum sentence of three years and eight months in prison.

Public Office Misconduct Offences, Penalties and the Law

Public office misconduct is an offence that is taken seriously by the courts given the importance of public office positions. 

In NSW, the offence of public office misconduct is set out in section 236Q of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999, which makes clear that it is against the law for a correctional employee to engage in an intimate relationship or sexual conduct with an inmate or a person who is subject to a community-based order where the conduct or relationship:

  • causes a risk or potential risk to the safety or security of a correctional centre or correctional complex, or
  • causes a risk or potential risk to good order and discipline within a correctional centre or correctional complex, or
  • compromises the proper administration of a sentence or a community-based order.

In NSW, the maximum penalty for an offence is two years in jail, or a fine of $2,200, or both

It should be noted that under section 236Q, it is not an offence if a correctional employee did not know, while the employee engaged in sexual conduct or an intimate relationship with an inmate or person subject to a community-based order, that the other person was an inmate or subject to the order.

Questions on the law? Speak to an experience criminal lawyer Sydney based. We’re available 247.

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