The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Geoghan's sister says guards harassed ex-priest

Some at Concord unit 'abused him terribly'

By Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 10/2/2003

Catherine T. Geoghan yesterday added her voice to those who say they witnessed guards at Concord state prison abuse their authority and harass her late brother, defrocked priest John J. Geoghan.

In a two-page written statement released yesterday, Geoghan said a prison official to whom she complained about her brother being assaulted by a guard in the visitors center ''disputed my report, then lied to me, fabricating the story that he saw John attack the guard when I know that he did not.

''By inventing a story to protect the guard, that official clearly communicated to me not only John's vulnerability to the whims of abusive guards, but the prison's ability to manipulate the disciplinary and grievance procedures to hide mistreatment,'' wrote Geoghan, 69, a retired teacher who frequently visited her brother during his 18 months of imprisonment. ''No honest person would believe John was a discipline problem.''

Leslie Walker, director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which represented John Geoghan before he was strangled in prison on Aug. 23, read Geoghan's statement at a news conference yesterday, then added her own concerns that the state was conducting a ''whitewash'' investigation into John Geoghan's death.

''Catherine Geoghan believes the investigation is being subverted by prison guards who are intimidating and harassing witnesses, and by prison administrators who are punishing potential witnesses -- and she is right,'' said Walker.

Two days after John Geoghan was strangled in his cell, Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn appointed a three-member panel to investigate the death. His office yesterday released this statement: ''As I have said in the past, I ask that the team I have assembled be given the courtesy of completing the investigation they have been working on. It is my hope that anyone who has information relative to this matter speak openly and honestly with members of the investigative team. If anyone believes that they are being prevented from speaking to the investigators then I would encourage their attorneys to contact my office directly.''

But yesterday, Walker released two letters she wrote Sept. 23 to top state officials in which she cited 10 examples of inmates saying they were intimidated by guards, apparently in order to discourage them from giving information on Geoghan's treatment in prison and his death. She said neither Flynn nor Department of Correction Commissioner Michael T. Maloney replied to her letters.

Walker yesterday also called on Governor Mitt Romney to established a ''blue ribbon commission'' to investigate the Department of Correction. ''The only thing that separates John Geoghan from countless other prisoners is that he died,'' Walker said. ''Many prisoners experience the same abuse and mistreatment. The commission must investigate the culture of abuse and mismanagement that is the norm in the Commonwealth's prisons. No agency should remain unaccountable.''

Shawn Feddeman, a spokeswoman for Romney, reacted yesterday to statements from Catherine Geoghan and Walker by reiterating the governor's ''full faith and confidence'' in Flynn's handling of the investigation.

Justin Latini, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said that office would have no comment while the investigation is ongoing.

Representatives of the 5,000-member prison guards union released a statement saying it ''supports any inquiry or investigation undertaken by the state,'' but it declined to ''address accusations made by prison inmates.'' The union statement also said it was ''beyond our comprehension'' that statements from certain convicted criminals are deemed ''credible'' in the news media.

Geoghan was serving a nine- to 10-year prison sentence for molesting a 10-year-old boy, and allegations that he sexually assaulted nearly 150 children, mostly boys, helped spark the clergy sexual abuse scandal. During 14 months in the protective custody unit of the medium-security Concord state prison, Geoghan complained of harassment by a handful of guards, whom he said defecated in his bed, ordered strip searches in view of other inmates, and destroyed his property.

Authorities say he was killed by Joseph L. Druce, 38, who is serving a life sentence for beating and strangling a Gloucester man. Druce has pleaded not guilty to murdering Geoghan.

In the statement released yesterday, Catherine Geoghan said that ''John always conducted himself respectfully and as a gentleman and received fair treatment from many prisoners and guards. Other guards abused him terribly, and with seeming impunity. . . . John's experience can provide insight and the possibility of reform, but only if witnesses can speak without fear for their safety.''

John Geoghan had complained to prison officials that a guard had slammed into him when his sister was visiting him in Concord. It was that alleged assault that she said she witnessed and spoke about to a prison official.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at

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