Thursday, November 10, 2005


Prison guard pleads guilty

DADE CITY, Florida - It started out as just another plea deal. The defendant came forward and stood by his lawyer. The attorney explained the bargain struck with the state, and the facts of the case, to the judge.

Michael William Eberline was about to plead guilty to introducing contraband, marijuana, to the Zephyrhills Correctional Institution.

It stopped being routine when Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper learned two important facts:

Eberline was a state corrections officer reporting for duty at the prison when he was arrested.

And the last time he smoked marijuana was two weeks before Wednesday's sentencing.

"So while he's out on release he's still smoking marijuana?" Tepper said. "Unbelievable."

What the 24-year-old married father of two hoped would be a career ended with that July 24 arrest. He resigned on the spot after five years in uniform. Four months later he was about to plead guilty and accept 18 months of probation and random urine screenings.

Only Eberline got more than that when he showed up in court Wednesday - he got a piece of the judge's mind, too.

"It was not for the purpose of introducing it to the prisoners," defense lawyer Brian Gonzalez said.

"So he just went to work high?" Tepper asked.

"No, judge," Gonzalez said.

The judge withheld adjudication, sparing Eberline from being classified a felon, but berated him for failing to obey laws he was sworn to uphold.

"I'm sure you wouldn't want me to come work after smoking marijuana," she said.

State prisons are often subject to contraband interdiction operations, where the facility and every prisoner, employee and visitor is searched.

ZCI was undergoing such a sweep that day. When Eberline showed up for his shift at 3:45 p.m., according to a Florida Department of Corrections report, the searchers found a partially smoked marijuana cigarette inside a pack of regular cigarettes.

Inside his 1999 Chevy Blazer, they found another marijuana cigarette and 15 partially smoked ones. Eberline admitted the 4 total grams of the drug found were his, the report said. He spent two days in the county jail before his release.

DOC spokesman Robby Cunningham said he could not comment on Eberline because he is no longer employed by the state.

It was an accident, a "stupid, absolute lack of judgment," Gonzalez said.

"Mr. Eberline has been extensively remorseful for his actions," the lawyer added. "That job was one of the most important things in his life."

Said the judge: "He'll never have that again."

"No, judge," Gonzalez said.

The judge reminded Eberline how much he lost.

"Although you have paid a heavy price," Tepper said, "you fell a year short of vesting in the state pension system. That's very costly."

Silently, Eberline nodded.

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

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