A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by five prison inspectors and a probation officer who claimed that their bosses at the Florida Department of Corrections threatened them after they tried to expose corruption and cover-ups.
The inspectors, Aubrey P. Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson, John Ulm and James Padgett — all of whom are still employed — filed the federal whistle-blower complaint in July.
Among other things, the inspectors alleged that their boss, FDOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, told them at a December 2013 Christmas party that he would “have their asses” if they didn’t back off an investigation into the death of a 27-year-old inmate they believed had been covered up.
Beasley subsequently filed an internal affairs complaint against them that accused them of misconduct. They were later exonerated.
The inspectors turned to Chief Inspector General Linda Miguel to ask for whistle-blower protection, but she declined.
Faced with the prospect of losing their jobs or being demoted, they filed the federal suit against Beasley and Miguel. Their complaint also accused the state of Florida of running a corrupt prison system, rife with brutality, gang violence and prison guards who routinely abused inmates.
But on Wednesday, Senior U.S. District Judge William Stafford, citing case law, said that as state employees, the inspectors had no First Amendment rights if they complain or are retaliated against within the scope of their employment.
Though the inspectors contended the complaints were filed as citizens, not as employees, the judge disagreed, saying they were acting in their official capacities as investigators for the department when they advised Miguel that they had found evidence of wrongdoing.
A sixth plaintiff, probation supervisor Christina Bullins, also had her suit dismissed, but the judge granted her time to file an amended complaint. Bullins’ claim had more merit, the judge ruled, because she had been fired and was a citizen at the time of the filing. She wrote to various FDOC officials advising them that she had information about the suspicious death of an inmate — the same one the five inspectors said was covered up.
She too was denied whistle-blower status by Miguel and was fired in October 2013. Her boss at the time allegedly told her that FDOC officials were “out to get her” in part because she was making so much noise about the inmate’s death.
Their attorney, Steven Andrews, said he will appeal.
No one has been held accountable in the 2010 death of that inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, who was imprisoned at Franklin Correctional Institution on an 18-month term for credit card fraud and drug possession.
Jordan-Aparo, who suffered from a rare blood disorder, was placed in solitary confinement and gassed multiple times by guards after he had begged to be transported to a hospital because he was having breathing problems and was too weak to walk.
The guards, however, fabricated a story, claiming that they gassed Jordan-Aparo because he was causing a disturbance. After the gassing, he was found dead in his cell, a Bible next to his head, his body coated with yellow chemical gas.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the death.
Jordan-Aparo’s case is among a litany of other suspicious deaths that remain open, or have been closed despite questions about the credibility of the initial probes by FDOC.
Also on Wednesday, a bill that would change the way FDOC handles corruption investigations received unanimous approval from the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee.
The bill, SB 7020, would create an independent oversight board to investigate and receive complaints about the Department of Corrections and impose strict new policies intended to protect both inmates and employees.
Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.