Court sides with guard in workers' comp dispute

Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that a former prison guard at the Anchorage Jail deserves workers' compensation for being threatened by a convicted killer.

The court said Carl Kelly, now 60, suffered psychological health problems from the 1994 confrontation.

The court referred the case back to the state's Workers' Compensation Board to decide if the injury's damage was temporary or permanent.

If the board decides the damage was long-lasting, Kelly could recoup lost wages back to the early part of this decade, when his workers' compensation benefits ended and he last worked.

He could look forward to salary compensation potentially as long as he lives.

The Alaska Department of Corrections argued that prison guards expect a certain level of misbehavior from inmates. Kelly argued that what happened to him went beyond what a reasonable person would expect, according to the court's decision last month.

The corrections officers' union was not involved in the case but supported the Supreme Court's decision, according to a spokesman.

State law allows claims for "extraordinary and unusual" mental-stress injury. With the Kelly case, the court clarifies the statute, which was written in 1988. The ruling says that what matters is the confrontation was not just another day at work for Kelly.

Kelly became a correctional officer in 1987, according to paperwork from the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission. According to his testimony to the workers' comp board, after five years of working at the Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility in Anchorage, work stresses increased because the state started housing more juveniles who had been waived into adult court and therefore adult jail.

Kelly also said he was the lone "babysitter" for 12 to 48 prisoners in a housing unit at a time and that over the years, the work and detainees wore him down, he said.

Kelly was assigned one day in 1994 to the unit where inmates with mental disorders are housed, according to the facts presented in the Supreme Court ruling. An inmate, Jacob Kochutin, was there because the jail had run out of room in the normal segregation area.

Kochutin was serving 99 years for sexually assaulting, then killing a 7-year-old boy on St. Paul Island in mid-1980s.

Kelly was the only guard and was unarmed. According to Kelly's testimony, Kochutin was intoxicated on hair spray and confronted Kelly with a sharpened pencil, saying he was going to poke the guard's eyes then stab him to death.

Kelly said he was too afraid to call for help, which finally arrived after he didn't answer calls on his radio.

Kelly checked into a hospital with high blood pressure and chest pain three weeks later. A doctor said the guard was suffering from significant anxiety about his safety at work and outside the job.

Kelly filed for temporary worker's compensation a month later.

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