Peter Z. got his first job as a correctional officer in 1996, when he was a burly 6-foot-tall, 210-pound 24-year-old. About the same time, the then 25-yearold Jeanette P.—short and full figured at 5-2 and 170 pounds—started her six-to-12-year sentence for robbery. She had been using drugs and alcohol for at least 12 years, eventually including heroin and cocaine, with her longest period of abstinence being eight months. She also had four children.
When the two met at Bedford Hills, a maximum-security prison about 50 miles north of New York City in 1996, Peter knew that DOCS policy barred him from having overly familiar relationships with inmates, he testified in August at a civil trial. But after they met, Jeanette started to see him as a friend, she testified at a recent civil trial. When she was transferred to Albion in 1997, she sent two letters to a friend of hers who knew him, saying, “Tell him I said hi,” she testified. In December 1998, when Jeanette and Peter were both coincidentally transferred within weeks of each other to Bayview, they started to become more familiar with each other.
For the first several months, Jeanette and Peter considered each other platonic friends. During his breaks, he would always come see her, Jeanette testified. “I was flattered ‘cause I was incarcerated for God knows how many years, and he was the first officer that would pay mind to me. So yes, I was flattered,” she testified. “I was incarcerated for many years, and I had long hair. I was always stated down [dressed in a state-issued prisoner’s uniform]. I never wore makeup, and he was the first officer in many years, a man, that actually paid mind to me.”
But on April 5, 1999, their relationship started to become sexual, according to a statement Jeanette gave investigators. That day, Peter asked her to come to the stairway next to the mess hall, stairwell C, to clean it. There, for the first time, they kissed and petted each other. In August 1999, they started having sexual intercourse, Peter testified, while the two were in stairwellC, ostensibly to clean it.
Soon after Jeanette and Peter’s first sexual encounter in August 1999, they started having sex in her room, in the honor dorm—a small housing unit on the third floor reserved for inmates whom prison officials deemed mature enough to handle more freedom. By March 2001, Jeanette and Peter had had sex at least 15 times in her room, he testified in August. Eventually they also had sex in the officer’s station—risking discovery by any potential passersby—on the roof of the building and in the gym, he testified. The two engaged in sexual activity whenever Peter worked in the honor dorm during the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift or when he was the roundsman—a correctional officer who doesn’t have a fixed post and makes security rounds throughout the facility. They also did it whenever he was the extra—a surplus officer without a specific assignment on a particular shift—and whenever he otherwise had the chance to come to Jeanette’s room.
When Peter got there, he would turn off his radio, reducing disturbances, she testified. Peter would be in Jeanette’s room for an hour or more with the door closed when he was the officer on duty in the honor dorm, according to a statement inmate Allavy Hill made to investigators. Their encounters would last five to 10 minutes and never involved condoms, because he didn’t want to bring them into the facility for fear he would be caught, according to a statement Jeanette gave investigators. For part of the time—at least until November 2000—she was taking officially authorized birth control pills to regulate her menstrual cycle.
Other inmates were aware of the affair. One, Audrey Pleasant, told investigators that she saw Jeanette sitting on Peter’s lap and Peter going into her room and closing the door. Jeanette and Peter both testified that other officers knew about it. According to Peter and Jeanette’s testimony, six correctional officers knew about it and three helped facilitate it. (All officers that they allegedly told denied knowing about it during the trial or weren’t called as witnesses.)
After Jeanette and Peter started having sex, Jeanette later testified, she began to feel as if she was falling in love with him. Peter testified that he also had romantic feelings for her. They passed notes to each other through inmate Adelaide Alvarez, according to a statement Alvarez gave investigators. Peter gave Jeanette greeting cards and love letters, his baby photo, his telephone number, and address, Jeanette told investigators. He even gave her a wedding band for Christmas one year. At the time, she believed the ring meant they would get married and “live happily ever after,” Jeanette testified.
But the Hallmark card version of the Peter-Jeanette romance was only one side of a complex reality, at least according to Jeanette. According to her, no later than the summer of 1999, even before Peter and Jeanette had sex, Jeanette began to show some indication that she wasn’t comfortable with their relationship. One day, she drafted a figurative eviction notice, dated June 2, 1999, and addressed it to Peter. The handwritten notice declares that she is forever evicting him from her life. The notice reads, in part, “This house of love has turned to anger, unlike yourself and your vicious inhuman treatment of the tenant and their rights. I ask that you return the keys to my heart and your deposit cannot be returned because of broken promises and damaged mind.”
It’s unclear what prompted the drafting of this note and whether Jeanette ever gave it to Peter, but by September 2000, Jeanette testified, she was clear that she wanted to end the relationship, in part because she’d heard he was with involved with other inmates. She also told an investigator, “My relationship with C.O. Peter was a bad one. He never did anything for me. He never brought me anything. Every time I asked him for something, he never brought it in.”
When she told Peter that she wanted to end the relationship, he got upset, threw a tantrum and began manhandling her, she testified. She also alleged, in Lewis and Freeman’s lawsuit, that Peter grabbed her around the neck and hit her with a pool cue (Jeanette joined their lawsuit when it was filed in 2003 and dropped out in 2009, upon Peter’s insistence, she testified). Pleasant told investigators she recalled overhearing an argument in which Peter called Jeanette a “bitch” and Jeanette called him a “faggot.”