Florida

For years, jail’s ‘psycho sergeant’ harassed co-workers. Her boss did nothing to stop it

Professional standards interview with Manatee County Jail’s ‘psycho sergeant’

Excerpts from an interview by Insp. Sgt. Paul Davis with Sgt. Kathryn Rogers who was stripped of her rank and suspended after an internal affairs investigation concluded she had been intimidating, harassing, and belittling others for years.
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Excerpts from an interview by Insp. Sgt. Paul Davis with Sgt. Kathryn Rogers who was stripped of her rank and suspended after an internal affairs investigation concluded she had been intimidating, harassing, and belittling others for years.

For at least three years, deputies in the Intake and Release Unit at the Manatee County jail lived in fear of Sgt. Kathryn Porter as she abused her authority by subjecting them to her harassment, intimidation and belittling.

She was known to bark profanity-laced orders and to call them names. Porter went as far as threatening to punch one deputy or kick a civilian booking supervisor in the teeth.

Her justification?

She told internal affairs investigators examining her behavior that she was a woman in a man-dominated environment.

According to the internal affairs report, Porter frequently excused her behavior and questioned the actions of others, saying things such as, “If I had a penis you would have done it, but I have a (expletive),” “You’re asking me these questions in that kind of way because I don’t have a penis,” or “You don’t respect me because I don’t have a penis.”

After a two-month internal affairs investigation that included interviews with many staffers at the jail and other law enforcement officers, Porter was stripped of her rank and demoted to a first-class deputy, reassigned to dorm security and suspended without pay for two weeks, according to a memo dated July 3. The investigation sustained allegations against her of harassment or discrimination and conduct unbecoming a deputy.

Porter was selective about whom she targeted, never choosing anyone with a strong personality who would stand up to her, according to the investigation.

But it was not just her subordinates who were subjected to her “wrath.” Law enforcement officers from outside the sheriff’s office, inmates and civilians at the jail were also subjected to or witness to her “unhindered hostile behavior.”

She was given the nickname “psycho sergeant” and often referred to as such by officers from the Bradenton and Palmetto police departments and Sarasota and DeSoto counties sheriff’s offices.

While the abuse was not constant throughout every shift, the timing of her behavior was found to correlate with her attempts to impress certain officers who came to the jail with inmates.

”Throughout the past three years, Sergeant Kathryn Porter has orchestrated a systematic, yet unpredictable campaign of intimidation, harassment, and belittlement aimed at her subordinates,” the internal affairs report on her misconduct concluded. “Although the regularity and duration of the negative treatment of her subordinates is sporadic and unpredictable, the intensity at which it is delivered keeps everyone tense. The constant anticipation of being her target forced her subordinates, and even her lieutenant, to remain guarded against becoming the object of her manifestations.”

While Porter, a 21-year veteran, claimed to accept responsibility for her actions when confronted with the evidence against her by the sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards, she attempted to minimize the allegations by claiming her words were taken out of context and meant to be jokes. She was emotional and timid after hours of reading and listening to the evidence the internal investigation had found, an audio recording of her interview with an investigator showed.

At the onset of the investigation, however, she told one male supervisor at the jail that he could never understand the challenges she faced as a female supervisor, according to the internal affairs report.

Porter’s harassment was often directed at her immediate supervisor at the jail, Lt. Derrick Preston. But Preston, a 23-year veteran, never corrected her insubordination. Instead, Preston admitted to “shutting down,” according to investigators.

Despite how many deputies brought complaints about Porter to him in the past couple years, Preston never documented those complaints and never disciplined her, other than holding a couple of unsuccessful informal counseling sessions.

As a result, the initial inquiry into Porter’s misconduct led to two internal affairs investigations, including one of Preston’s failure to supervise or discipline Porter.

“When a leader fails to ensure the adequate monitoring of an employee’s actions or disregards complaints or concerns about the employee’s conduct, the agency in effect condones the misconduct and enables it to proliferate. It was incumbent upon Lieutenant Preston to recognize that the flaccid counseling he implemented was not correcting Sergeant Porter’s disruptive and unprofessional demeanor,” an internal affairs report into Preston’s misconduct stated.

According to a memo dated June 24, Preston was also stripped of all his rank and demoted to a first-class deputy, reassign to security at the courthouse and suspended without pay for a week. The demotion came after Preston completed a Fitness for Duty examination earlier that month that concluded he was unfit to be a corrections sergeant or lieutenant.

“When alerted or faced with Sergeant Porter’s cyclic pattern of toxic behavior, Lieutenant Preston solidified his negligence as a supervisor by abandoning his leadership obligations, leaving his employees exposed to Sergeant Porter’s wrath.” the internal affairs report stated.

Porter’s misconduct

While Porter’s abuse went on for years, the tipping point came on April 13 in the aftermath of an inmate’s suicide at the jail.

“The off-going shift endured a frantic night, which included a suicide in their area of responsibility. As a result, the inmate count board was not updated, and an accurate accounting could not be accomplished without verifying the identity of each inmate in the housing unit,” the internal affairs report states.

One deputy, Porter’s subordinate, was attempting to verify the identity of each inmate in order to get an accurate count when Porter yelled at him to “stop bitching and do the (expletive) count.”

Later that shift, Porter was asking others “what his problem was.” When another deputy responded she said, “Well he better get the (expletive) over it… because I don’t give a (expletive).”

When that deputy couldn’t find Preston to report his conflict with Porter because Preston was not in the building, the deputy instead took his grievance to another lieutenant for the first time, that deputy later told investigators. The incident was reported up to the next level of the jail’s chain of command, Capt. Susan Jones.

“At the conclusion of her preliminary inquiry, an aghast Captain Jones learned Sergeant Porter’s hostile demeanor has been occurring for approximately two years, and that Lieutenant Preston was not only aware of her behavior, but had borne the brunt of her unprofessional actions in the presence of subordinates,” the internal affairs report states.

The conclusions of her inquiry were then reported to the Office of Professional Standards, which launched tandem internal affairs investigations into Porter’s alleged abuses and Preston’s failure to do anything about it.

The toxic work environment Porter created led at least one deputy to retire early. That same deputy was belittled to tears multiple times.

Another deputy was processing the intake of an inmate known to easily agitate and was speaking to the inmate in a calm manner in order to deescalate the situation and avoid any use of force, he and others told investigators, when Porter implied that he should just perform a sexual act on the inmate.

Officers from other agencies frequently complained about Porter and her behavior to deputies in the Intake and Release unit. It got to point that when they arrived at the jail, they would immediately ask whether “psycho sergeant” was on duty.

One Palmetto police officer told investigators he stood up to Porter when she began yelling at him by responding, “Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t have to sit here and just take it, you’re not even my supervisor. I don’t even work for Manatee County.”

Investigators were also told about an incident involving a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent but that agent canceled his interview, citing “guidance from his legal department suggesting he not provide any negative statements.”

Officers from other agencies and inmates would sometimes even question why Porter’s subordinates put up with her abuse, the reports state.

One Intake and Release deputy was told, “She talks to you guys like that?”

Porter’s behavior could go from one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes, the investigation revealed. One example offered by a deputy was when she once said, “’Well don’t (expletive) touch my (expletive)!’ but five minutes later would said, ‘Sweetheart, can you pass me that pen?”

Deputies, staffers and even Preston, never knew what to expect. Those outside her unit, including Preston, avoided her. Her subordinates, however, tried to always be present in an effort to support each other.

This was not first time Porter had been disciplined, her personnel records show.

Hired in November 1997, Porter was only disciplined once during her first decade with the sheriff’s office, receiving a one-day suspension. But since being promoted to the rank of sergeant, Porter has been disciplined four times. In 2009, months after being promoted, Porter was suspended without pay for four weeks, two of which she was allowed to withdraw from her vacation rather than serving.

In 2011, an internal investigation confirmed allegations that Porter had become romantically involved with a one of her subordinates. Within days of a formal complaint being filed, Porter and the deputy were married. Her then-husband told Professional Standards that they got married once they learned of the complaint, knowing that a transfer for one of them was imminent.

They both admitted they had been in a romantic relationship for two months, and that they knew it was in violation of general orders since Porter directly supervised him. Porter was suspended for two weeks without pay but permitted to take half the time from her vacation.

Within seven months of her marriage and being disciplined for having a relationship with a subordinate, Professional Standards spoke with Porter, who had changed her name to Kathryn Rogers, after rumors surfaced that she was in a romantic relationship with another subordinate. Because an official complaint was not filed, according to the internal affairs report, it was not investigated at the time.

“Rogers was reminded that she cannot be involved in any personal relationships with any of the deputies or employees she supervises,” the report stated. “Rogers stated she was well aware of this.”

Despite being aware, Porter did begin a relationship with that deputy, a February 2012 internal affairs investigation later confirmed. But Porter claimed she didn’t think she was violating general orders, claiming she was not the deputy’s direct supervisor.

Porter was a floating sergeant, however, and records confirmed that the two women had worked in the same area several times together the prior month, so Porter had in fact been supervising her.

Both women denied, however, the allegations that they had sex while on duty in a closet at the jail. Porter was again found to have violated general orders and that time was suspended for six weeks without pay.

Leadership failures

Porter’s bad behavior toward subordinates, other law enforcement officers and her own supervisor went on for years, virtually undocumented.

According to internal affairs reports, deputies repeatedly brought those complaints to Preston and he did nothing about it.

“Sometimes it seems like she’s a lieutenant and he’s the sergeant,” one deputy told Professional Standards.

Preston’s most common excuse for his failure to hold Porter accountable was that she and the captain were friends, and so he could “only do so much.” Jones adamantly denied this was true, citing Preston’s previous failures and two allegations of misconduct against Porter for her abrasive demeanor that she had filed.

Preston admitted he was aware of Porter’s unacceptable and inappropriate behavior during his internal affairs interview, the report of his interview states.

“Lieutenant Preston’s erroneous perception of Captain Jones incorrectly guided his decision to withhold damning information from her that would have swiftly ended Sergeant Porter’s control. Subsequently, Lieutenant Preston’s inaction to reprimand and hold Sergeant Porter accountable for her mistreatment has perpetuated a false belief that Sergeant Porter is above reproach; thus, leading his employees down a defeating path of tolerance and acceptance of Sergeant Porter’s hostile behavior.

Preston’s inability to properly supervise those under his command was not news to his own chain of command, according to the internal affairs report and his own personnel file which reveals five times he was previously disciplined with suspensions or letters of reprimand.

Extensive notes in Preston’s evaluations in 2016, 2017 and 2018 cite concerns over his ‘deficiencies as a lieutenant” in comments made by Jones, although his overall rating was found that he “meets standards.” Numerous times, Preston failed to address abuse of overtime even when directed to so, she said. Other examples included his failure to counsel someone on the tone of an email that was insubordinate or a delay in addressing abuse of sick time by another subordinate.

In 2016, booking clerks had told Preston that their supervisor had been sleeping while on-duty. When he did nothing about it, those clerks reported it to Jones. As a result, Jones reported his misconduct and an allegation of neglect of duty was later sustained against him and he was suspended without pay for two days.

Preston had been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan. Jones and Major Daniel Kaufman each expressed their expectations, even offering him the opportunity to step down to sergeant, according to at least one evaluation. They reminded him that they were there to help him improve, according to Jones’ notes in Preston’s evaluations.

According to the internal affairs reports, Jones claimed she was unaware of Porter’s ongoing harassment. But Preston’s evaluations reveal that deputies frequently did come to her with their complaints, although it does not specify that any of those complaints were about Porter.

“I informed him that his subordinates did not feel confident that he would address concerns, that they continue to approach me because he does not inspire confidence,” Jones noted in November 2016. “As a lieutenant he should be a leader, a supervisor who subordinates respect and feel confident in his desire and ability to address concerns to an acceptable resolution.”

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.
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