Dept. of Corrections wrong but not criminal in retaliation against whistleblower

Prison inspector Doug Glisson was hit with six internal investigations after he testified before a state Senate committee in 2015.
Prison inspector Doug Glisson was hit with six internal investigations after he testified before a state Senate committee in 2015. Florida Senate

The Department of Corrections wrongly turned its investigative might against one of its own — violating its own policies, stacking up allegations against a whistleblower, and spending more time focused on investigating him than they spent on probing a claim of inmate abuse, a law enforcement panel ruled late Tuesday.

The three-member Compliance Review Panel was charged with deciding if the department was guilty of criminal misconduct for intentionally retaliating against Doug Glisson, a senior investigator at the Department of Corrections who since 2014 has accused his bosses of covering up inmate abuse and agency corruption.

Their ruling was that the agency had violated Glisson’s rights, breached its own protocol, allowed for harassing behavior, and failed to follow the law when his bosses subjected him to six internal affairs investigations. But, they said, the conduct was not criminal.

“The panel does not believe there was overwhelming intent” that the investigator who conducted the investigation against Glisson, Brian Falstrom, intentionally violated Glisson’s rights, the panel wrote in a two-page ruling. Falstrom “did not receive adequate training or had the prior experience to conduct the internal affairs investigations into the allegations.”

The panel, instead, directed its blame on the department, particularly former Chief Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, Glisson’s boss who was reassigned earlier this year.

Glisson and three fellow investigators claim that Beasley had dismissed their call to investigate the gassing death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. They told a state Senate committee in February 2015 that Beasley had directed them to back off investigating that case and others and, a day after the committee grilled Beasley, Glisson was hit with the six internal investigations.

The panel raised several concerns about the agency’s treatment of Glisson, saying it had “great concern” regarding the six internal investigations launched between August 2014 and February 2015 without notifying Glisson, then dumping them all on him on the day after the Senate hearing.

The agency was “pleased with the findings of the panel, who determined that neither the department nor any of its members intentionally violated the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights,” said Alberto Moscoso, agency spokesman. He said the concerns “mirrored several issues already identified by our agency and supported decisions made over the past year to address them. Moving forward, we will review the panel’s recommendations and apply lessons learned to our training methods and procedures, ensuring that similar issues will not arise in the future.”

The panel heard from Beasley’s former deputy, Ken Sumpter, Falstrom and Kathleen Harrell, the investigator who replaced Falstrom and ultimately dismissed the charges against Glisson.

But the daylong testimony also revealed an agency torn by internal bickering and distrust and exposed cracks in the inspector general’s office, the FDC division charged with policing complaints about officer-on-inmate abuse and institutional corruption.

It was a long-fought victory for Glisson, who was demoted and docked pay in April. The career law enforcement officer has spent the last year removed from his role as an inspector supervisor, working in a tiny office and tasked with listening in to inmate phone calls.

Of the six charges against Glisson, the one with the most lasting impact was a claim by inmate George Rivera that Glisson failed to pursue information Rivera gave him in 2013 about officer-on-inmate abuse at Franklin Correctional Institution. Glisson and fellow investigator John Ulm testified that Rivera was never a witness to those allegations and they had gone beyond those claims and obtained more information than Rivera had.

Falstrom was assigned by Beasley to conduct the investigation into Rivera’s claim but, rather than notify Glisson, Falstrom testified that Beasley told him to back off for six months.

Sumpter told the panel that Falstrom was told to back off at the request of the state’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, because it would interfere with a pending federal lawsuit by Glisson and others seeking whistleblower protection. (Glisson, Ulm and inspectors Aubrey Land and David Clark asked Miguel in 2014 to protect them against retaliation so they could come forward with their claims about inmate abuse, cover-up and corruption at the agency. Miguel denied it.)

A year later, when Glisson accused Falstrom of violating his rights by failing to interview witnesses relating to Rivera’s claim, FDC removed Falstrom from the case.

Glisson then asked for the hearing to clear his name, but the department denied it. Only after Glisson sued FDC and persuaded a judge to compel the agency to conduct the hearing did FDC comply.

The court also ordered a Complaint Review Board, which conducted a similar hearing Monday and concluded that FDC’s investigation against Glisson was unfounded and violated the Officer’s Bill of Rights.

If the panel had concluded that FDC or Falstrom intentionally violated the law enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, they could have been subject to criminal sanctions. Nevertheless, Glisson said he was satisfied with the panel’s ruling.

“I feel they did an honest assessment of what was presented,” he said after the hearing.

“No one wants to see an officer get in trouble if he wasn’t properly trained,” said Steve Andrews, Glisson’s attorney. “So we’re satisfied. If it wasn’t an intentional violation, I’m sure they’ll issue proper training. That’s the main thing.”

To underscore what it called “concerns” about the agency’s handling of its officer investigations, the panel detailed what problems that emerged from the testimony. Among them:

▪  Beasley ordered Falstrom not to notify Glisson there was an open and active internal investigation against him for six months, in violation of agency policy.

▪  Beasley sent a personal letter to Glisson on Feb. 23, 2015, informing him of the investigations and threatening that “dismissal is a penalty,” even though he knew that because the investigation was outside the 180 days required by law “the Inspector General was aware no discipline would be sought against Inspector Supervisor Doug Glisson.”

▪  Although Glisson and others had received allegations by Rivera about officer-on-inmate abuse at Franklin Correctional Institution, the panel said “it is still unknown” if FDC followed up on those allegations. It concluded, however, “it does appear the focus shifted to the internal complaint against” Glisson.

▪  Falstrom failed to interview key witnesses prior to interviewing Glisson, failed to let him have a lawyer present for an interview, and failed to provide him with the complaint against him — an allegation from Rivera that Glisson failed to pursue information about officer-on-inmate abuse.

▪  Glisson had to take the agency to court to convene a Compliance Review Board to clear his name after the agency refused.

Under the law, one member of the panel was chosen by Glisson — FDC Inspector David Clark — another was chosen by the agency — Marty Snow, inspector general for the Florida Department of Highway Safety — and the two of them chose Tallahassee Police Lieutenant David Odom, who served as the chair.

Mary Ellen Klas: meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas