Miami-Dade County

Prison system demotes, cuts pay of whistleblowing inspector, then backs off

A Department of Corrections senior inspector, one of four who exposed staff misconduct in the fatal gassing of an inmate at Franklin Correctional Institution — was demoted Thursday, then reinstated some five hours after the Miami Herald inquired about the move.

John Ulm was told in an email Thursday morning he was being transferred to another post 40 miles away and would get a 5 percent pay cut.

The Herald sent an email to corrections officials at about 4 p.m. asking about his demotion. The action came four days after the Herald published an article about how Ulm and a group of other veteran investigators had uncovered possible criminal wrongdoing — and a cover-up — in the death of Randall Jordan-Aparo. The 27-year-old prisoner was found dead after being repeatedly gassed by guards in an isolation cell in 2010.

Prison system spokeswoman Jessica Cary said in an email Thursday afternoon that “it was not true” that Ulm had been demoted.

A few hours later, she called to say it was true, but the action wasn’t “approved” by the administration and simply had not “taken effect.”

Meanwhile, Ulm had already packed all his case files into three boxes, along with his computer, and put them at the door to his office. He went home Thursday evening worried about his job and how the pay cut would affect his retirement, his attorney, Steven R. Andrews, said Thursday.

Andrews said Ulm was told he was being demoted because of errors made on reports he had approved.

Shortly before 10 p.m., Ulm’s supervisor, Doug Glisson, called him at home and told him his bosses had changed their minds. He was told to return to work and unpack his belongings, said Andrews, who also represents Glisson and inspectors Aubrey Land and David Clark.

In April, the four inspectors had requested, but were denied, whistle-blower protection from Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel. They contacted Miguel after they said they were threatened by their boss, prison system Inspector General Jeffery Beasley.

Late last year, Beasley allegedly told them at an office Christmas party that he would “have their asses” if they didn’t stop looking into the Jordan-Aparo case as well as others involving alleged misconduct in the department, according to a federal whistle-blower lawsuit the inspectors filed in July.

The inspectors went above Beasley’s head, approaching prison system Secretary Michael Crews and, ultimately, Miguel. They sought whistle-blower status, essentially a guarantee that they would not face retaliation for looking into the death of Jordan-Aparo, who was serving 18 months for check forgery and drug possession.

In a meeting with Miguel, which Land recorded with the inspector general’s permission, Land detailed what he called the Jordan-Aparo cover-up, other corruption and the retaliation he and others were allegedly subjected to by Beasley.

Miguel — who knew about the Jordan-Aparo case as early as 2011, according to the lawsuit — denied whistle-blower status to the inspectors, who then filed a lawsuit in July against Beasley, his deputy, Kenneth Sumpter; Miguel and her deputy, Dawn Case.

It was Glisson, Ulm’s current supervisor, who informed him Thursday that he was demoted. Sources say that Glisson, despite being part of the lawsuit, was ordered to demote Ulm by Marilyn Henderson, assistant chief of investigations under Beasley and Sumpter.

But in an 8:30 p.m. email to the Herald, DOC spokeswoman Cary indicated that Glisson had decided to demote Ulm all on his own.

“The fact is, the recommendation to move Inspector Ulm to a new position was initiated by his direct supervisor, Doug Glisson, who is also a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against the agency,” Cary said. “Mr. Ulm has not been moved from his current position; no action has been taken on the recommendation of his supervisor.”

Andrews said that since probing the Jordan-Aparo case, the inspectors have been intimidated and targeted with bogus internal affairs investigations that falsely accused them of wrongdoing.

“We believe it’s clearly retaliatory and we’re not surprised they are starting to retaliate against the plaintiffs in this case,” Andrews said.

Ulm, who has been with the department for five years, is eligible to retire next year. A pay cut would have reduced his pension, which is based on the last year of his salary, Andrews said.

Ulm was an officer on the Havana, Fla., police force, near Tallahassee, for 18 years before coming to the Department of Corrections.

Andrews filed an amended whistle-blower complaint last week, adding the name of two more employees who also claim they were subjected to threats and intimidation after telling their bosses and Miguel about possible criminal misconduct by prison staff. One of them, inspector James Padgett, asserted that Beasley and Sumpter committed perjury and obstruction of justice while trying to squelch other investigations.

The FBI is investigating the Jordan-Aparo case for possible civil rights violations. And the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigated the case in 2010 and found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, reopened the case last year after the inspectors drew their attention to key reports, video, audio and photographs that were never examined.

The evidence contradicted stories given by the guards, who claimed they had gassed Jordan-Aparo because he was causing “a disturbance.” Jordan-Aparo suffered from a rare genetic blood disease and was experiencing so much pain that he had collapsed several times and had become too frail to cause a disturbance in the days before he died.

The nurses on staff failed to treat him properly and refused his demands to be taken to the hospital, records show. When he cursed them for not treating him, the guards placed him in a 13-by-8 isolation cell and gassed him nine times in 13 minutes, records show.

There was no evidence that Jordan-Aparo did anything wrong, the inspectors wrote in their report.

In all, Jordan-Aparo was subjected to 600 grams of chemical agents in a confined, unventilated space. A tear gas expert at Duke University, Sven-Eric Jordt, said Jordan-Aparo was likely exposed to lethal levels of gas, since lab tests have shown that breathing the gas for more than 30 minutes can cause death.

Photographs show that the guards did not follow protocol by decontaminating him and his cell after he was sprayed, further exposing him to chemicals.

Five hours after he was sprayed, Jordan-Aparo was found dead in his cell, coated in yellow-orange residue, a Bible under his shoulder. In complaints filed with the inspector general, inmates said Jordan-Aparo had been crying and begging for hours, saying he couldn’t breathe.

At least three Franklin guards involved in the gassing or its aftermath have been suspended with pay, one since March 2012, the others since summer of 2013. According to documents obtained by the Herald, many others who were involved remain on the job, and some have been promoted.

Late Friday, Crews issued a memo to all DOC employees admitting that, in reviewing case files and penalties for wrongdoing by staffers, it is clear the department has failed to hold those who commit wrongdoing — and even criminal acts — equally and adequately accountable.

Under a new policy, he said, any employees who commit criminal acts will be dismissed, and those who violate department rules will be disciplined accordingly