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Florida Prison Employees Awarded $630,000 for Subjection to Prisoner “Gunners”

Florida Prison Employees Awarded $630,000 for ?Subjection to Prisoner “Gunners”

On May 15, 2008, a federal jury awarded $45,000 to each of 14 former female employees at Florida’s Martin Correctional Institution, finding the women had been subjected to lewd behavior by prisoners. The women claimed the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) was aware of the prisoners’ behavior, but failed to stop it.

This was the second verdict against the FDOC on similar claims, but at different prisons. The first verdict, for $990,000, awarded between $37,500 and $97,500 to each of twelve female prison employees on January 26, 2007. [See: PLN, August 2007, p.26]. Attorney Wes Pittman, who was counsel in both cases, said he is also bringing lawsuits on behalf of about 90 more prison staff from the Martin, Charlotte and Everglades facilities.

Those three prisons have one thing in common: They all had close management (CM) units, which are Florida’s version of special housing units, during the time the lewd behavior was rampant in the mid-1990’s until 2002 when the units were closed and the close management prisoners were transferred to other prisons. The Charlotte facility, however, went from having a few CM units to a full scale CM prison under a settlement that reduced CM units systemwide and improved conditions of confinement.

The lewd behavior that the female prison employees complained about has its own moniker: “gunning.” Basically, gunning is public masturbation. “Anytime a female came on the wing, someone would yell, ‘workcall,’” said prisoner David Reutter, who was housed in Martin’s CM units in the late 1990s. “That call would activate all the gunners. They were so brazen they would stand on their cell’s sink and masturbate, hoping the female [staff] would see them.”

In the most recent lawsuit, the jury believed the one classification employee and 13 nurses, who were plaintiffs in the case, when they said guards would do nothing about it. Often, they were on the unit alone. “We got abandoned in places where no one should ever be abandoned,” said former prison nurse Paula LaCroix-Cutlip. “It was worse than I could ever imagine. I don’t think there’s anything, I don’t think there’s ever been a Hollywood movie made, that has captured how truly bad it was.”

The FDOC tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the jury that the women were disgruntled because a new agency hired to provide prisoner health care was planning to cut their pay and benefits. Instead, the jury found that employees LaCroix-Cutlip, Susan Black, Tita de la Cruz, Charlene Fontneau, Linda Jones, Joyce Meyer, Sushma Parekh, Donna Pixley, Vesna Poirier, Michelle Pollock, Lourdes Silvagnoli, Janet Smith and Lee Wascher had been subjected to a hostile or abusive work environment, and awarded each of them $45,000. The plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees is still pending, after the court initially denied fees for concurrent work performed in the earlier lawsuit. See: Beckford v. Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 2:06-cv-14324-JEM.

Pittman called for Florida Governor Charlie Crist to act. “I think it’s really time for the governor to take a look at this situation and intervene if necessary,” he said. “These employees cannot continue to endure what they have had to endure.”

Source: Palm Beach Post

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Beckford v. Department of Corrections


 

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