Mo. corrections officer wins $85K settlement over wrongful firing

In his initial lawsuit, Jonathan Griggs said he got in trouble for reporting what he believed was illegal activity within the lockup


By Kurt Erickson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Another Missouri prison guard has won a large settlement from the state after he was fired in 2014.

A report issued Thursday by Attorney General Eric Schmitt shows Jonathan Griggs received an $85,000 check in November after he convinced a jury he was wrongfully discharged from his job at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific.

The check is the result of a settlement between Griggs and the state after a St. Louis County jury initially awarded him $189,000 in damages.

Records show Griggs had been a correctional officer in Kentucky for four years before taking a job at the Pacific facility in 2013.

In his initial lawsuit, Griggs said he got in trouble for reporting what he believed was illegal activity within the lockup, including officers smuggling in drugs and gang activity.

His lawsuit notes that he was told to ignore the activity.

Later, Griggs alleged he was demoted from his post as a gang task-force officer after his supervisors accused him of dealing drugs. No charges were filed related to that accusation.

A month later, as a correctional officer, Griggs said he was attacked by inmates. After fighting them off, he said a prayer.

In response, his supervisor, Warden Jennifer Sachse, called him a “religious fanatic,” court records say.

Sachse also recommended he receive a mental evaluation.

In September, Griggs was fired after he reported that an inmate was studying how to make bombs in his cell.

In its decision, the jury rejected Griggs’ claim of religious discrimination, but agreed that his firing was illegal.

The payout is the latest in millions of dollars in settlements that have diverted money from the state’s core programs.

Most occurred under the watch of then-Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi, who resigned in 2016 after former Gov. Eric Greitens was elected.

Greitens appointed Anne Precythe as director in 2017.

Precythe started a zero-tolerance policy for managers who fail to respond to misconduct allegations. And, the department established an Office of Professional Standards in 2017.

Many of the settlements involve women guards who alleged male co-workers sexually harassed them.

In response to the settlements and judgments, former Attorney General Josh Hawley began posting a monthly list of legal expenses on his website. The November 2019 list, now administered by Schmitt’s office, is the most recent available.

The report notes that there are an estimated $458 million in contested pending claims.

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©2020 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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