Saturday, October 08, 2005

 

Prison Leaders In Hot Seat Because Of Investigations


TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Leadership at the nation's third-largest corrections system is being questioned in the face of steroid abuse, sexual assault accusations and the arrest of a phantom employee who is said to have been hired to help a Florida prison softball team.

Some state lawmakers are keeping an eye on Florida's Department of Corrections, where top officials are under investigation by the FBI and the state police agency, although exactly what the agencies are investigating isn't clear.

"I don't like to stick somebody in the eye when stuff is going wrong, but it's one thing after the other, and I wonder who is minding the store," state Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Gainesville, said Wednesday.

The Department of Corrections made headlines this week after the apparent suicide of a veteran officer embroiled in the investigation of allegations of sexual assault at a party for prison guards.

Meanwhile, several guards are under indictment or have pleaded guilty to importing steroids.

Other guards have been charged with embezzling money from prison recycling programs.

It also was revealed Tuesday that one prison might have put a former professional baseball player on the payroll simply to pad a prison softball team.

The employee was arrested, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents allege he never worked at the prison in Sneads, near Tallahassee.

Gov. Jeb Bush is standing behind the head of the corrections agency, James Crosby, a former prison warden who took over in 2003 from former Secretary Mike Moore, who also dealt with frequent controversy.

Bush was asked a couple of weeks ago whether he still had confidence in Crosby's leadership, and the governor -- on his way out of a hurricane briefing -- said simply that he did and declined to elaborate.

"The governor's position hasn't changed," Bush spokesman Russell Schweiss said Wednesday.

Lawmakers Reserve Judgment
Many lawmakers were taking a wait-and-see approach, wanting to know more about what the FBI and FDLE are investigating and how it will turn out.

"I can assure you that once the dust begins to settle and we find out what's allegation and what's fact, this committee will be ready to move forward," said Rep. Mitch Needleman, R-Melbourne, who is on the House Justice Appropriations Committee.

The appropriations committee has some oversight of the corrections department.

House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, doesn't see a need for a special investigation by the Legislature, said his spokesman, Towson Fraser.

"There are investigations going on," Fraser said. Bense "trusts the governor to get to the bottom of it and do whatever needs to be done. If after all that there's legislative action that needs to be done, he'll look at it."

Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, had a similar take on it, saying he was confident Bush and law enforcement would fully investigate.

The normally gregarious Crosby, who rarely has shied away from talking to the media, did just that Wednesday. Corrections spokesman Robby Cunningham said the secretary would not be available for an interview.

"While we cannot comment on these specific issues due to ongoing investigations, the Department of Corrections takes each of these issues very seriously and is working closely with other law enforcement agencies on these matters," Cunningham said in a statement.

Strong Support For Crosby
Crosby, who has been a warden at five prisons in a career at the agency going back to 1975, has weathered tough scrutiny in the past.

He was warden at Florida State Prison in 1999 when several guards were charged in the beating death of an inmate. Crosby cooperated with an investigation and the guards were cleared.

He's also had to answer questions about how probation officers have performed in cases in which probationers who should have been sent back to prison committed new crimes.

More recently, Crosby has acknowledged having dinner or attending concerts and sporting events with officials from companies seeking contracts with his agency. He has insisted the contracts never were discussed.

Crosby can count among his supporters the union that represents prison guards, said David Murrell, of the Police Benevolent Association.

Murrell said it is difficult to avoid problems in an agency with 20,000 corrections and probation officers.

"The rank-and-file people have an awful lot of respect for Secretary Crosby, as we do," Murrell said. "When he gives his word, he keeps it."

The latest blow to the agency came Tuesday when Capt. Keith Davison, 39, who worked at New River Correctional Institution, was found dead in his truck, apparently having committed suicide a day after being fired.

Davison, a 16-year veteran, was dismissed for being at the party in the bachelor officer quarters at Florida State Prison last week when the sexual assault was said to have happened.

"I don't like to stick somebody in the eye when stuff is going wrong, but it's one thing after the other, and I wonder who is minding the store."


See our complete collection of bad behavior at the hands of prison and jail guards: Where did they learn that?

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