TALLAHASSEE (CN) - Prison inspectors have no whistleblower claim for alleged retaliation stemming from their re-opening of an inmate's death investigation, a federal judge ruled.
Aubrey Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson, John Uhm and James Padgett are inspectors for the Florida Department of Corrections. They - along with former Fort Lauderdale, Fla. probation supervisor Christina Bullins - sued the FDOC for retaliation.
They claimed in their lawsuit that Land, Uhm, Glisson and Padgett investigated the death of inmate Randall Aparo, who allegedly died from being gassed with chemicals by Franklin County, Fla. prison guards. An initial investigation in 2010 found no wrongdoing but Land, Uhm, Glisson and Padgett re-opened the case in September 2013, according to the ruling.
FDOC Inspector General Jeffrey Beasley allegedly threatened the inspectors for looking into Aparo's death, telling them at a 2013 Christmas party that he would "have their ass for it," the ruling states. An internal affairs complaint was filed against Land, Uhm, Glisson and Padgett that December, accusing them of misconduct.
Clark also had an internal complaint lodged against him after sharing information from an unrelated investigation into inmate deaths, even though no violations were found, according to the ruling.
Bullins was not involved in the investigation but learned about Aparo's death from her brother, who was an inmate at the Franklin County jail when Aparo died. Bullins' brother told her that Aparo was "abused and gassed too much," the ruling states.
Bullins says she was fired in 2013 for writing to FDOC officials about Aparo's death and filing a whistleblower complaint.
U.S. District Judge William Stafford granted FDOC's motion to dismiss Wednesday, tossing the allegations of Clark, Land, Uhm, Glisson and Padgett for failure to state a claim.
In discussing information related to Aparo's death, the inspectors were not speaking as citizens on a matter of public concern, which is required proof for a First Amendment retaliation claim, Stafford ruled.
"Given the context of their employment and the allegations they have made, it is clear that the inspector plaintiffs limited their communications to the community of persons jointly charged with the responsibility of investigating criminal and administrative misconduct within FDOC," Stafford wrote. "The court can reach no other conclusion: the inspector plaintiffs spoke as employees and not citizens. Having spoken as employees and not citizens, the inspector plaintiffs cannot survive defendants' motion to dismiss."
Bullins retaliation claim was dismissed as well, but with leave to amend, Stafford ruled. The complaint does not make clear whether Bullins asserts a First Amendment claim and whether any retaliatory acts pertain to her, the judge held.
"While the court finds that Bullins' claim - as currently articulated - should be dismissed, Bullins should have an opportunity to amend her claims if she can do so in conformity with Rules 8(a) and 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure," Stafford wrote.
Bullins has until March 20 to file an amended complaint. If she doesn't, her claims will be dismissed as well, the judge ruled.
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