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Florida Jail Guard Awarded $600,000 in Defamation Suit; Award Vacated

A Florida jury awarded a former jail guard $600,000 for defamation and lost earnings against the ST. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office (SLCSO). In a post-trial motion, the Circuit Court dismissed the verdict.

While working as a guard on July 26, 1996, at the St. Lucie County Jail, a prisoner under the supervision of guard Barbara A. Bates committed suicide. During the course of the ensuing investigation, Bates resigned “for personal and professional reasons in order to pursue other career options.”

Bates filed a lawsuit in 2002 against SLCSO and two deputies. The claims against the deputies alleged defamatory statements that Bates was “crazy.” Those claims were subsequently dismissed.

The claims against SLCSO involved an affidavit of separation it filed with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That affidavit said the reason for separation was “voluntary separation while being investigated for alleged misconduct.” That form became part of an officer profile sheet for background checks of officers that other law enforcement agencies consider hiring.

Bates contended the false statements in the affidavit prevented her from obtaining a job with the Riviera Beach Police Department in 2002. After a five day trial, the jury agreed, awarding Bates $300,000 for past damages for injury to reputation or health, and any shame, humiliation, or hurt feelings, as well as $300,000 for loss of earnings. On a post-trial motion on June 25, 2008, the court dismissed the verdict, holding the Sheriff has “absolute immunity.” Bates was represented by Palm Beach Gardens attorney Frederick W. Ford. See: Bates v. St Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, St. Lucie County Circuit Court, Case No: 02-CA-1129.

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Related legal case

Bates v. St Lucie County Sheriff’s Office