Stonington road worker hit with another suspension

Stonington - The town has again suspended highway department employee Ernie Santos for three days, this time for getting angry with another employee and allegedly throwing a five-gallon gas can on the ground while refueling a running lawn mower.

An investigation by Public Works Director Joe Bragaw found that Santos' action on May 4 put himself and his fellow workers "in harm's way." In addition, the town has again ordered Santos to undergo anger management counseling.

The incident comes 16 months after the town suspended him for three days without pay and made him attend anger management classes.

The discipline was in response to an incident in which the town said Santos pushed a fellow employee and then brought a 3-inch, curved-blade knife to sharpen at work, which was seen as an implied threat to intimidate the same employee. The town also cited him for making other threatening comments and gestures to fellow employees over a two-year period.

The January 2011 penalty was the first disciplinary action taken by the town against Santos despite numerous complaints of him threatening fellow employees. As far back as 2006, Bragaw had written a letter to Santos because he was concerned that Santos "might use violence in the workplace."

But in a March 2011 report to the town, the town's Employee Assistance Program manager, Susanne Taylor, said, "Ernie Santos has completed his counseling program and appears to have made remarkable progress in both self-insight and self control."

The town released details of the May 4 gas can incident on Monday after receiving a Freedom of Information request from The Day.

During his interviews with highway employees, Bragaw determined that Santos became involved in an argument with another employee about who was going to use a certain lawn mower. He then allegedly threw the gas can on the ground. The gas splattered on the ground and went on Santos. He then said he was sick and went home.

When Bragaw questioned Santos about the "extensive number" of Fridays he had been out sick, Santos said that "he doesn't want to be here and taking off Fridays makes for a longer weekend."

Santos told Bragaw the mower was not running at the time of the incident and that he dropped the can. He said he did not put anyone in any harm and should not be suspended. Santos could not be reached for comment at his home Monday night.

Bragaw also said that Santos, who has worked for the town since 2000, complained that he has a "target on his back."

"I told him he does but he has to control it. I told him if any of the guys egg him on, he needs to let us know. He said he didn't want to be a rat," Bragaw wrote in his report.

The town has now warned Santos that any further behavioral issue, threats or retaliation against employees could subject him to further discipline up to firing. Last fall First Selectman Ed Haberek said Santos knew that any further incidents would be "detrimental to his position."

j.wojtas@theday.com

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