News from Tallahassee for 11/1/14

State union weighs in on budget posted on 9/25/14

by Bill Thompson | Ocala Star Banner

The head of one the largest police unions in Florida is urging the County Commission to budge in the budget demands it is making of Sheriff Chris Blair.

Jim Preston, president of the Florida Fraternal Order of Police in Tallahassee, said employee turnover and morale and, more importantly, public safety are being adversely affected by the board's insistence on holding tax rates flat for 2015.

"We kind of feel like the deputies are being used as pawns in what's going on with the budget," Preston said in an interview Wednesday. "The deputies at the Sheriff's Office are top-notch people doing a good job, but, man, are they frustrated.

"I feel that's going to affect public safety in Marion County."

Preston was referring to the fact that patrol deputies may go another year without raises after the County Commission directed Blair to keep the property tax rate within the special tax district that funds the patrol and investigative arms of the Sheriff's Office at the 2014 level.

Blair, his staff and now Preston assert that fact, combined with Marion having one of the lower starting salaries among sheriff's offices in Florida, has deputies filing for the exits.

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Sheriff, pot activist disagree during marijuana forum posted on 9/23/14

by Rick Neale | FLORIDA TODAY

TITUSVILLE – Jodi James argues that cannabis is a “time-honored, tested and true” medicinal drug, and Amendment 2 would provide Florida residents health-treatment options that would land them in jail today.

“It allows the 80 percent of you in the room who would never consider breaking the law an opportunity to work with your personal care physician,” said James, executive director of the Eau Gallie-based Florida Cannabis Action Network.

“And, have access to something that very well may be more effective — and less toxic — than your medicines,” James said.

However, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey disagrees with the text of Amendment 2. He said legal loopholes would let 13-year-olds enter “doctor shops” and receive “recommendations” to receive marijuana, rather than formal prescriptions.

“They’re not going to take it down here to the end of Garden Street to CVS and have it filled. They’re going to go to the medicinal marijuana dispensary next door that’s going to be in a strip mall,” Ivey said.

“And they’re going to pull out these Tupperware containers filled with large buds,” he said.

Monday night, Ivey and James argued opposing viewpoints during an Amendment 2 forum at Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant. If approved by voters, the amendment would change the Florida Constitution to legalize medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

About 50 people attended Monday’s forum, which was hosted by the North Brevard Democratic Club.

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Corrections Fires 32 Workers for Misconduct posted on 9/22/14

by DARA KAM | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

In what has become a frequent exercise, Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews on Friday fired 32 workers accused of breaking the law, including three prison guards involved in the gassing death of an inmate at a Panhandle prison four years ago.

All of the workers fired were on administrative leave pending a review launched earlier this summer. The housecleaning is part of the secretary's attempt to salvage the reputation of the beleaguered agency in the wake of reports of widespread abuse and corruption, whistle-blower complaints and federal investigations surrounding prisoner deaths.

Among the axed workers are Rollin Austin, Randall Johnson and Kevin Hampton, three former prison guards at Franklin Correctional Institution where inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died after allegedly being repeatedly gassed by guards and then left to die.

Dismissal letters from Crews to the workers say they are being let go because they "participated in a force incident that resulted in the death of an inmate." None of the fired workers has been arrested or charged with any crimes.

Four Department of Corrections investigators say they've been retaliated against for exposing a cover-up about Jordan-Aparo's September 2010 death. The investigators claim that Gov. Rick Scott's chief inspector general Melinda Miguel -- who refused to grant them whistle-blower protection -- was aware of the cover-up for at least three years. The DOC investigators, who found that Jordan-Aparo was too ill to warrant being treated as a threat, are themselves now the subjects of internal reviews.

According to a whistle-blower lawsuit, Austin gave the order to gas Jordan-Aparo, who died five hours later after being gassed twice more and being left to die. The 27-year-old, coated in yellow residue from the noxious chemicals, was found dead in solitary confinement with a Bible beside his head. Jordan-Aparo was serving an 18-month sentence for fraud and drug charges.

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Mental Health Advocates Suing DOC: 'Prison System Must Go Beyond Current Reforms' posted on 9/11/14

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

The unnatural death of a mentally ill inmate two years ago has spurred the Florida Department of Corrections to enact a series of reforms. But, some mental health advocates say it’s not enough. Now, the group Disability Rights Florida is suing the prison agency on behalf of other mentally ill inmates housed within the same correctional facility the inmate died in.

In 2012, mentally ill inmate, Darren Rainey died, after he was allegedly locked in a scalding, hot shower as punishment at Dade Correctional Institution. And, lawyer representing Disability Rights Florida Peter Sleasman says after conducting their own probe, the group found similar abuses at the facility’s inpatient mental health unit.

“And, we got reports that the most seriously ill inmates were being targeted by the Correctional officers for abuse down there: withholding of food, beatings, other kinds of verbal and physical harassment of the inmates down there—basically for behaviors which were a direct result of their mental illness,” said Sleasman with Florida Institutional Legal Services, which also filed the federal suit.

Corrections Secretary Mike Crews has been traveling the state, visiting different correctional facilities. And, he recently announced a series of reforms, like extra training for officers, new disciplinary and investigative policies, and the launch an inmate deaths website—the agency's latest reform.

“Our department should be held to the highest standard. And, I have zero tolerance for anything less,” said Crews, at a press conference last month.

According to the website, there have been 225 inmate deaths this year—many of them deemed natural, while others are still under investigation. The website allows users to search by facility and view investigations into unnatural deaths.

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Florida prison system, under fire, releases data on inmate deaths posted on 9/10/14

by julie k. brown | miami herald

Judith Arrascue says she has tried for months to find out what happened to her husband, Luis, a state prison inmate who died at the Lake Butler Reception and Medical Center in April.

On Tuesday, Florida’s Department of Corrections unveiled a new online database of inmate deaths that reveals Arrascue died after he “fell down on the sidewalk’’ outside one of the prison dorms.

His death, the investigative summary says, was accidental. Informed of that finding Tuesday, Arrascue remained suspicious.

Five months after the episode, she said she has no autopsy, no incident report, and no other details from the Department of Corrections, except that her husband’s head “smashed like a watermelon’’ on the concrete pavement.

The online document describing Arrascue’s death, one of only eight detailed case summaries posted thus far, is heavily redacted.

“How can that be an accident?’’ his wife asked, weeping. “He was pushing a man in a wheelchair.’’

Florida’s Department of Corrections, facing intensifying scrutiny over a growing number of suspicious inmate deaths and reports of alleged abuse involving prison guards, introduced the online database cataloging all inmate deaths over the past 14 years.

The database lists inmates by name, prison, race and manner of death, and supplies other details that the Miami Herald had been trying to obtain from the department since May, when the newspaper began a series of articles about prison deaths.

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