The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has fired three guards, demoted a warden and disciplined other employees following an investigation into dozens of children being shocked with stun guns during “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” on April 23, 2009. Apparently, some FDOC employees wanted to give their kids a demonstration of how they treat prisoners while on the job.
What started as an investigation into an incident at the Franklin Correctional Institution (FCI) expanded after similar incidents were disclosed at two other state prisons. The investigation began when the father of a 12-year-old girl filed a lawsuit after his daughter was shocked by an FCI guard with a 50,000 volt stun gun. The jolt knocked her to the ground, causing abrasions and trauma that required a doctor’s treatment.
That guard, who was not identified, shocked at least six children. Frank Gonzalez, owner of Self-Defense USA, a large stun gun company in San Diego, described the 50,000-volt shock as “similar to grabbing a live wire in your house with a wet hand – like a hard punch in the stomach with the added trauma of electricity running through your body.”
The father of the 12-year-old filed suit after he objected to the use of a stun gun on his daughter, which had been approved by the child’s mother, who works at FCI. The child’s parents are separated. “These devices are designed for stopping dangerous prisoners and can cause injury or death,” said attorney Matthew Foster. “They are not for experimenting on children.”
The FDOC agreed. “There are very clear rules about when, where, and who these devices are to be used on, and all officers are clearly trained in this. So we don’t yet know how this could have happened at three facilities on the same day,” said FDOC spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
The children involved were between the ages of 5 and 17. The stun guns require bodily contact. They normally knock victims to the ground, cause a few minutes of disorientation and leave two small burn marks. In some cases the children were shocked individually; in others they held hands in a circle and the shock was passed through them. The only child who was identified as being shocked was the daughter of the warden at Indian River Correctional Institution (IRCI), which houses male juvenile offenders from 14 to 18 years old.
Five IRCI employees were suspended, including Major Seth Adams, Sgt. Charmaine Davis, Sgt. Linda Rosada, Lt. P.J. Weisner and guard Steve Rich. The use of stun guns on children visiting the Martin Correctional Institution resulted in suspensions of Lt. Russell Bourgault, secretary specialist Annette Ennis, guard Randy Kartner, secretary specialist Kory L. Rupp and guard Thomas Skillings.
Bourgault, Davis and Sgt. Walter Schmidt were subsequently fired, while Adams and Weisner resigned – though Weisner said the stun gun demonstration was a “common practice.” Sixteen other FDOC employees were disciplined, ranging from suspensions and demotions to written reprimands. On May 15, 2009, IRCI warden Ricky Dixon was demoted to assistant warden and transferred to another facility.
According to a July 7, 2009 news report, more than 40 children were shocked with stun guns at FCI, IRCI and Martin; those who were shocked reportedly were told they could be first in line to get hamburgers and hotdogs. Some of the children’s parents were asked for permission and some were not. While similar incidents involving children being shocked by FDOC staff may have occurred in previous years, this was the first time it was reported.
“We believe this behavior is inexcusable,” said FDOC Secretary Walter McNeil. “I apologize to the children and parents. None of these kids should have been exposed to these devices.”
The FDOC is also investigating an incident that occurred the same day as the inappropriate use of stun guns by prison staff, in which children were unintentionally exposed to tear gas at the Lake Correctional Institution.
Ironically, at the time the shocking incidents occurred, prison officials said stun guns had not been used on any FDOC prisoners since the beginning of 2009.
Sources: St. Petersburg Times, Associated Press, www.tcpalm.com
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