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Florida’s Broward County Jail: Abuse and Misconduct As Usual

Florida's Broward County Jail: Abuse and Misconduct As Usual

by David M. Reutter

Despite Florida's Broward County jail (BCJ) being under the supervision of a court-appointed monitor, recent incidents reveal prisoners are still at danger. BCJ has been under supervision since a 1994 consent decree that settled a conditions of confinement lawsuit filed over thirty years ago. See: Carruthers v. Jenne, USDC SD FL, Case No. 76-6086-CIV-WMH. "One would think that thirty years is plenty of time to get it right, but BSO [the Broward Co. Sheriff's Office] can't get it right. So the case goes on," said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

The court-appointed monitoring did not help Dana Clyde Jones, 44, who was found lying in a pool of clotted blood on BCJ's seventh floor on December 16, 2005. As of June 2006 he remained hospitalized with extreme brain damage; he is not expected to recover. Jones suffered from severe mental illness and was jailed for punching his elderly mother.

"We want to determine first why a prisoner with a serious mental illness was housed where he was housed," said Eric Balban, a Washington D.C. attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project. "We want to know how someone could suffer this kind of extensive beating and no one apparently witnessed it."

DCJ Deputy Derrick Gordon informed a supervisor that a prisoner told him that Jones, a white man, was "jumped" by black prisoners after he made "racial remarks" directed at two black deputies. However, according to a jail log-book entry, Jones had an altercation with a guard and received a disciplinary write-up for using vulgar language about an hour before he was found badly injured.

Jones' family was not notified of his condition and hospitalization until six days later. Initially, DCJ staff said Jones had been injured in a slip-and-fall accident. To literally add insult to injury, the Sheriff's Office officially released Jones from custody on December 22 while he was in a coma at the hospital, shifting the cost of his medical care to his family.

Another violent incident occurred on May 5, 2004 that had many wondering if a guard jumped a prisoner or it if was the other way around. Two things are certain: There were conflicting stories and the prisoner, Alvin Bell, 32, was charged and prosecuted.

Steve J. Martin, the federal monitor overseeing BCJ, wrote that the "nature and extent" of Bell's injuries were "evidence of unnecessary and excessive force." Bell said he was naked and handcuffed when the guard attacked him. The guard involved, Gene Miller, 54, contended "I did nothing but take a beating." According to an article in the Miami Herald, Martin found that the Sheriff's investigation was "seriously flawed" and that Bell, not Miller, had been injured.

The incident occurred during a strip search in a supply closet at BCJ. Miller claims he never called Bell a "sissy" and "faggot," but prisoners who passed a polygraph test say he did. Some of the physical evidence was discarded or not preserved in its original state. Miller, who claimed he sustained a fractured jaw and eye socket, had no apparent injuries at a hospital emergency room examination.

Nonetheless, Bell was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting a law enforcement officer with violence. While Miller said he never used excessive force on Bell, he was forced to leave his previous position as a Captain with the Florida Dept. of Corrections after seven "use-of-force" incidents resulted in four prisoner injuries between 1999 and 2001.

Bell went to trial on March 6, 2007. The jury acquitted him of the battery charge and found him guilty of misdemeanor resisting without violence. The jury wasn't informed that Bell, who was wheelchair-bound, could no longer stand or walk due to his severe injuries. He was immediately released based on time served. Miller retired from the Sheriff's Office in March 2006 and now works for a police department.

Concerning other cases involving use of force at the jail, attorneys who represent BCJ prisoners in the consent decree stated that use of force incidents were "problematic" in 31 cases between September 2004 and September 2005. One of those cases involved a female prisoner who was struck 3 to 5 times in the head after she broke free from a male deputy after repeatedly asking to use a bathroom.

Also problematic is the way the Sheriff's Office investigates such incidents. According to the State Attorney's office, from 2000 to 2006, 62 cases of alleged excessive force by BCJ deputies were referred for prosecution. Sixty were dropped due to lack of evidence. Further, between Jan. 2001 and Sept. 2005, only three internal investigations by the Sheriff?s Office found violations of the jail's use of force policy by deputies, resulting in discipline that included counseling, a one-day suspension, demotion and reprimands.

There is no independent oversight of internal jail investigations. "I don't think BSO can fairly investigate BSO," said Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. When internal affairs investigations are conducted, the results go to BSO's 11-member professional standards committee, which reviews the evidence. The committee is composed of seven of the Sheriff's top administrators and staff members, and three non-BSO employees. Of the three non-BSO members, two, Marta Prado and David Rush, are longtime political friends of Sheriff Ken Jenne. Rush served on the Sheriff's Foundation of Broward, while Prado is married to the Sheriff?s former law partner, former state Attorney General Robert Butterworth.

Regardless, BSO spokesman Elliot Cohen stated, "There is no problem of excessive force in our jails." Then again, with such conflicts of interest in investigating those incidents, how would he know?

Besides allegations of excessive force, there has been other staff misconduct at the Sheriff's Office. On January 27, 2006, Stephen Gude, a civilian supervisor at the North Broward jail commissary, was charged with one felony count of official misconduct. He is accused of filing false payroll records for almost $5,000 in overtime pay that he didn't work, and allowing other employees to do likewise. Up to six other staff members in the jail's commissary unit have been implicated. Gude resigned on February 2, 2006. "I can't believe that after going to work for the sheriff's office I get an arrest record," he said.

In another incident involving misconduct by jail staff, a lawsuit was filed against BSO on August 2006 alleging that the Sheriff's Office illegally recorded attorney-client conversations. Over a two-week period jail employees recorded all phone calls, including privileged calls between prisoners and their lawyers. A BSO official claimed the recording was due to a "glitch" in the phone system, and only one attorney call had been recorded. The lawsuit, filed by attorney Stuart Davidson, is still pending; on March 30, 2007 the District Court denied the county's motion to dismiss. See: Sawchuck v. Jenne, USDC SD FL, Case No. 06-01182-Civ.

The problems in the Broward Co. Sheriff's Office may reach as high as Sheriff Jenne himself: Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Jenne defrauded the public under the "honest services mail and wire fraud" sections of federal law.

The probe began with subpoenas for Jenne's bank records and those of other BSO employees. The investigation started after mainstream media exposed the Sheriff's moonlighting activities, which consisted of Jenne acting as a security consultant for a BSO vendor and a company advising the Seminole Indian tribe. Then-Governor Jeb Bush ordered the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement to investigate the Sheriff.

One of Jenne's longtime secretaries, Marian Yoka, advised prosecutors of a $20,000 loan that she had facilitated as an intermediary between Jenne and an acquaintance. The Sheriff signed a promissory note to repay the loan; however, he failed to claim the loan on financial disclosure forms that must be filed with the State Commission on Ethics. The question is did the third party receive any special favor for the loan.

Jenne's bank records revealed that he received $64,000 for his outside work activities. The bulk of that money, $60,000, came from T&M Protection Resources of New York, a company that advises the Seminole tribe, in connection with assessing the tribe's police force before they opened a new casino.

The other $4,000 came from Innovative Surveillance Technologies, a BSO vendor, for the development of manuals to train the Barbados police force. Three BSO deputies wrote up anti-terrorism and drug training lesson plans while on duty; power point presentations and other lesson plans were designed by an on-duty crime analyst, who also charged overtime for the project.

When it came time to do the actual training, seven deputies took BSO computers, training tapes, satellite phones and radios to Barbados in January 2004. Innovative Surveillance paid each deputy $1,000, in addition to the Sheriff's fee.

A federal grand jury is presently considering evidence against Jenne to determine if he used his public office for personal gain, received unlawful compensation or violated the public trust. Jury members have heard from Jenne's two secretaries; former BSO Lt. Col. Gary Moore, who is now a consultant for the Sheriff; two BSO vendor companies; and the chairman of T&M Protection Resources.

If the grand jury determines that criminal charges are warranted, and Sheriff Jenne is prosecuted and convicted, he too could be echoing Stephen Gude's ironic remark regarding his employment with the Sheriff's Office. Jenne has been dogged by allegations of corruption, organized crime ties and cronyism throughout his entire law enforcement career as a prosecutor, sheriff and legislator. To date, nothing has stuck.

Sources: Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald

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