News from Tallahassee for 10/1/14

Turpentine and prisons: The dark legacy of a prominent Baker County family posted on 9/10/14

by Clifford Davis | Florida Times-Union

The historic Baker County jail certainly was not seen as a refuge by most prisoners who spent time there.

The simple brick structure – with its trap door in the kitchen ceiling meant for hangings – offered little relief from scalding Florida summers. For the scarred, battered prisoners fortunate enough to return there from Sen. T.J. Knabb’s turpentine camp in Glen St. Mary in the 1920s, it was a refuge.

T.J. Knabb, and later his brother William, used cunning, intelligence and an iron fist to build the largest turpentine empire in the world. In what was Florida’s second-largest industry until the middle of the 20th century, that was no laughing matter.

Knabb Turpentine eventually owned over 200,000 acres of pine forest — more than half of Baker County.

The family’s power and influence shaped the county to such an extent that it is still obvious today.

Children play Little League baseball at Knabb Sports Complex in Macclenny on land donated by the family. A turpentine display at Heritage Park “was constructed by Knabb offspring to honor their family’s contribution to Baker County’s growth and development,” according to the park’s website.

However, underneath the façade of wealth and power is a dark legacy built on the blood, sweat and sometimes the lives of those unlucky enough to become entangled in its web.

Thomas Jefferson Knabb was born in Baker County in 1880. He built his fortune on turpentine and timber, using peonage and convict labor. He also served as a state senator for 10 years and, at the time of his death in 1937, owned 10,000 head of cattle and 50,000 acres of land.

“The old saying was that if T.J. didn’t pay his taxes, Baker County would go bankrupt,” one family member told the Times-Union.

Knabb crafted his empire, in part, on the convict-lease system in place in Florida at the time. By 1919, the state outlawed the leasing of state prisoners to private companies, but counties could still lease theirs. For counties like Baker, it provided substantial and much-needed revenue.

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FDLE plans full-fledged inquiry into Waldo police posted on 9/3/14

by Arek Sarkissian | Gainesville Sun

The City of Waldo now faces two state investigations stemming from its police department, and a Clay County Sheriff’s Office report released on Tuesday revealed more allegations against Waldo’s police chief.

On Tuesday, Florida Department of Law Enforcement detectives determined there was enough evidence of a violation of the state’s ticket quota law to warrant a full-fledged investigation.

Last week, five Waldo police officers told the City Council that Chief Mike Szabo and City Manager Kim Worley ordered them to write 12 speeding tickets per 12-hour shift, which breaches a state law that carries no consequences.

The allegations by the officers spurred an FDLE preliminary inquiry and then the investigation announced on Tuesday.

The case is the second investigation opened by FDLE investigators against Waldo police. The first began on Aug. 12 that involved Szabo and relates to a possible violation of police procedure. Worley was still mum on details on that case as of Tuesday afternoon.

“Hopefully, I can tell you everything by Friday,” Worley said. “Then I can answer all of your questions.”

Worley also said the 12-traffic ticket requirement was only a guideline implemented to keep officers busy and was not meant to spur revenue for the community known for decades as a speed trap.

“It was only to make sure that they’re working,” Worley said. “There’s not a supervisor and a lot of times you’re working by yourself.”

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Former DJJ secretary joins Ballard Partners posted on 9/3/14

by Kathleen McGrory | Herald\Times Tallahassee Capitol Bureau

Former Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters is joining Ballard Partners, the lobbying firm announced Wednesday.

Walters will focus on youth and justice issues.

"Wansley is a highly-respected voice in Florida government and she's a proven leader with a track record of success," President Brian Ballard said in a statement. "We are excited to bring her level of expertise and knowledge to our clients and their issues."

Walters served as Department of Juvenile Justice secretary from 2011 until her retirement from state government in 2014. Before that, she was director of the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department for 14 years.

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Gualtieri: Medical Pot Vote Pushes Recreational Use posted on 8/28/14

by MARGIE MENZEL | News Service of Florida

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is helping lead an effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana. Both a lawman and an attorney, Gualtieri was appointed sheriff by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011. He was elected in his own right the following year.

Gualtieri started his career as a Pinellas deputy in 1982. Promoted to detective, he investigated international drug and money-laundering crimes and became an expert in electronic surveillance. In 1998, he left the sheriff's office to study law, graduating from the Stetson University College of Law in 2002. After a stint at a private law firm, Gualtieri returned to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office as general counsel in 2006. He was appointed chief deputy by Sheriff Jim Coats in 2008 and performed both functions until Coats retired and Gualtieri became sheriff.

Gualtieri also is well versed in child welfare, since Pinellas is one of the six Florida counties where sheriff's departments conduct their own child-protection investigations.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Bob Gualtieri:

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DJJ Cancels Contract with Controversial Provider posted on 8/26/14

by MARGIE MENZEL | News Service of Florida

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has canceled a contract with a controversial operator of a 40-bed residential facility in Santa Rosa County, with potentially far-reaching implications for the way the state rehabilitates juvenile offenders.

Department officials said the Santa Rosa Substance Abuse Treatment Center hadn't corrected problems involving safety and security for the 14- to 18-year-old boys in its program. They also pointed to the program's failure to provide "effective behavioral interventions and appropriate reporting of incidents," according to a news release.

In a June 26 letter to the provider, Youth Services International, the department said the facility saw four YSI staff members terminated in a two-month period for excessive or unnecessary use of force or the failure to report safety and security issues.

"I think we were very thorough in our process in identifying where the deficits were with the program," said the department's interim secretary, Christy Daly. "The actual decision to default on the contract was not a difficult one, because at all times we are focused on the safety of these children and holding our providers accountable."

The canceled contract means Youth Services International can't bid on new contracts with the state for at least 12 months.

The company continues to operate nine private, for-profit juvenile facilities in Florida, but cannot respond to a current invitation to negotiate the contract for one of them, the St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Youth Services International did not return calls requesting comment.

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