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Politics

Report Clears Corrections Whistleblowers

December 2, 2014 - 6:00pm

Corrections investigators did nothing wrong when they took nude photographs of a prison guard suspected of having sex with an inmate at a Panhandle prison, a report released by Gov. Rick Scott's inspector general found.

Scott Inspector General Melinda Miguel quietly released the 76-page report Wednesday, clearing five investigators and two prison guards of any wrongdoing regarding a search warrant that allowed the investigators to take nude pictures of Franklin Correctional Institution officer Kassidy Hill, who later threatened to sue the department and filed a discrimination complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The commission found no cause for the complaint.

Four of the investigators, who work for Department of Corrections Inspector General Jeff Beasley, accused Beasley of launching the probe after they alleged Miguel's office was aware of a cover-up involving the death of Randall Jordan-Aparo. The inmate died at the Franklin County institution in 2010 after being gassed with noxious chemicals.

The investigators -- Doug Glisson, Aubrey P. Land, James Padgett and John Ulm -- later sued Beasley, who answers to Miguel, Scott and others for retaliation against them after Miguel refused to grant them whistle-blower status last year. Former corrections worker Christina Bullins, also one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, contends she was fired after she raised questions about the circumstances surrounding Jordan-Aparo's death. Bullins' brother was an inmate at the prison in a cell adjacent to Jordan-Aparo in the solitary confinement unit at the Carrabelle institution.

Their lawyer, Steven Andrews, contends that the new report proves that the investigators were targeted by the inspector general.

The report "fully exonerates my clients and raises a lot of questions as to why it was filed," Andrews said. "It was clearly retaliatory for their disclosures concerning Randall Jordan-Aparo."

The Hill case was part of a larger investigation into wrongdoing at the prison, now under scrutiny by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and led the inspectors to raise flags about the handling of Jordan-Aparo's death.

The new report was authored by Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission inspector general investigator Amy Schmidt, who was brought on in November to look into Hill's allegations. Schmidt wrote that the inspectors followed protocol in obtaining the search warrant, signed by a judge, which allowed them to photograph "the full body" of Hill.

The investigators first discovered they were part of an internal probe at a Christmas party a year ago, when Beasley told Ulm, Glisson, Williams, Padgett and Beasley's deputy, Ken Sumpter, that "we f---- up" by taking pictures of Hill, according to an interview with Ulm included in the report.

Ulm told investigators that "Beasley also said that DOC GC (General Counsel) Jennifer Parker 'had come down and told him the agency was going to have to 'write a big ole fat check'" to settle Hill's complaint.

The report also showed that former Secretary of Corrections Michael Crews, who retired last week, met with Beasley and Miguel in February three days after the prisons chief met with Ulm, Glisson, Land and David Clark, another IG investigator who is part of the lawsuit.

"After meeting with Secretary Crews and Beasley, CIG Miguel contacted Beasley and advised him to cease any activity on the ongoing investigations of (the cases) until the CIG's office could obtain a full briefing regarding these open investigations," Schmidt wrote.

The Scott administration issued a brief statement Tuesday about the report and the whistleblowers' allegations. "The whistleblower lawsuit is a matter for the courts to decide,'' Scott spokesman John Tupps said in the statement. "The chief inspector generals report was completed on Nov. 26, 2014. A female correctional officer complained of mistreatment. Melinda Miguel wanted to ensure objectivity in the investigation and requested investigative assistance from FWC."

The report also highlighted internal problems within the corrections inspector general's office. The agency was relying on an outdated policy manual, written in 2006 but updated frequently through internal emails or memos issued by Beasley.

"When asked about the policies and procedures in place during June 2013 and his understanding of the policies and memorandums included in this investigation, Padgett stated, 'I'm going to sum it up for you the best way that I can. Total confusion. Just chaotic as far as procedures and this directive and that directive and just like I stated, I came into the office, there is no FTO (Field Training Officer) manual no FTO training policy, there is no check-off list it's learn as you go.' Padgett added that until very recently there had been one directive after another pushed out to the field," Schmidt wrote

Beasley has since implemented some improvements, including a tracking system to ensure that all directives issued to staff have been received, something that did not exist in 2013, the report noted.

The report also "recommended that guidelines be adopted to specifically address the taking of photographs during an investigation and to enhance the guidance surrounding the search of an employee's person that involves the visual inspection of the employee's unclothed body."

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