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Worker at prison fired, rehired, after horse incident

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta

Publication: The Day

Published 02/25/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/25/2013 12:08 AM
Inmates had accused the employee of using excessive force on animal

An agricultural worker assigned to rehabilitate abused horses at the Second Chance Large Animal Rehabilitation Facility at the men's prison annex in Niantic was fired last year after it was alleged that she mishandled and injured a horse and didn't report the incident.

Francesca Cintolo has since been rehired after entering into a stipulated agreement in August negotiated by the Office of Labor Relations between herself, her union and the state. She returned to her job at The Second Chance Ranch at the Niantic Annex in December.

Neither Cintolo nor her union representative Bill Kluytenaar could be reached to comment.

According to an investigation conducted by the state Department of Administrative Services, fellow agricultural worker Tanya Wescovich sent a text message to her supervisor, Raymond Connors, on Sept. 26, 2011 informing him that she had received complaints from inmates that a day earlier, Cintolo was rough with a horse named Cinnamon.

The inmates said she used excessive force with a chain lead, which is placed around the horse's muzzle, while attempting to spray flies off the animal.

Wescovich noted that there were visible marks and missing hair on the horse's muzzle.

Wescovich said inmates had told her previously that they thought Cintolo was rough with the horses, but nothing could be proven, the investigation report said.

Connors, a state animal control supervisor, was interviewed for the investigation. He said he went to the facility later on Sept. 26 and saw marks on Cinnamon's muzzle.

Connors said it is common practice to use a chain lead to discipline a horse, but it should never leave a mark or harm the horse.

He contacted a veterinarian who determined the marks were "consistent with excessive use of force."

Cintolo was interviewed on Oct. 5 and Oct. 21.

She said that on Sept. 25, an inmate, Don LeVasseur, said that he couldn't clean Cinnamon's back feet because flies were all over the horse and she kept stomping her back feet.

Cintolo said she would get the fly spray. She said she went into the stable and put a lead rope on the horse, but she couldn't control her while spraying her, and the horse slammed her against the fence.

In the second interview, Cintolo she said she was afraid the horse was going to run her over. She told LeVasseur to get the chain lead.

Cintolo said Cinnamon was trying to run out of the stable and she was holding onto the lead rope. She said perhaps the horse injured herself from a pinch from the chain or by striking the door of the stall.

Several inmates were interviewed. They said they did not see Cinnamon slam Cintolo, nor did they see the horse try to run out of the stall.

LeVasseur also said he mentioned to Cintolo that Cinnamon did not liked to be fly sprayed.

"Mr. LeVasseur said he told Angie that the chain had drew blood and her response was that's how you train a horse," the report said.

Cintolo did not record the incident in a log book, as required. She told investigators she didn't do it because the injury was minor and the horse was eventually brought under control.

The investigation found that Cintolo did use excessive force and caused the lesions on the horse and noted that because she did not log the incident, it made it appear as though "she was attempting to hide the incident."

Cintolo was fired in April and immediately filed a grievance through her union, Connecticut Employees Union Independent, Local 511. Her employment with the agency was reinstated in August.

In the stipulated agreement, her dismissal was reduced to a 15-day suspension for neglect of duty. The time between the end of her suspension and her return to work was designated as authorized leave without pay.

Linda J. Yelmini, director of the Labor Relations, said her agency found the firing was excessive punishment. She said her office determined that Cintolo did not receive adequate training to deal with the type of horses placed in the program.

As part of the agreement, Cintolo agreed not to sue the state or its representatives.

Bruce A. Sherman, director of the Bureau of Regulation and Inspection at the Department of Agriculture, disputes the charge that Cintolo didn't have adequate experience.

"... Experience plays heavily into our decision on whether we hire someone," said Sherman. "At the time she was hired, it appeared she had a lot of experience working around horses, even the younger horses. Something like judgment and rapport with the animals is something you have and has nothing to do with the lack of training."

Sherman said the department is in the process of working with the University of Connecticut Department of Animal Science's equine program to provide training for the workers at the ranch.

He said that there are currently six horses and one sheep at the ranch. The agency partners with UConn in its Agriculture Annual Spring Horse Auction to find homes for the animals. Cinnamon has since been placed in a new home.

Sherman said the agency does everything in its power to ensure that the animals at the ranch are treated properly, and that is why it decided to take action against Cintolo. He also noted that the Department of Agriculture did not sign the stipulated agreement but had to abide by it.

"They're supposed to have a safe haven, and we try everything in our power to do that," said Sherman. "... It's a really good program."

i.larraneta@theday.com

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