Four investigators for the Florida Department of Corrections have filed a lawsuit against the agency, saying they've been punished for calling attention to an inaccurate report about an inmate's death.
The suit, filed this week, also names Gov. Rick Scott's Office of the Inspector General, Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel and an assistant, and two high-ranking officials at the Department of Corrections as defendants.
It alleges that the four employees bringing the claim --- Aubrey Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson and John Ulm --- have faced retaliation for raising questions about the investigation into the death of an inmate. The punishment includes two of the four facing their own internal-affairs investigation.
"The plaintiffs have alleged that as a result of the exercise of their rights under the First Amendment, they have been subject to ongoing retaliation in the form of false and unwarranted internal affairs complaints which, in all likelihood, will continue unless injunctive relief is granted by this court," the suit says.
The four employees aren't seeking payment from the state, which enjoys sovereign immunity, but are asking that the Department of Corrections and Miguel's office be barred from retaliating against them. They're also asking for the court to rule that the group should get whistleblower protection. But the suit does ask for financial compensation from the individuals who are named as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Land, Ulm and Glisson started an investigation into "a series of complaints concerning garden variety prison guard misconduct at Franklin Correctional Institute" in 2013. As part of that investigation, they concluded that an earlier, 2010 probe into the death of an inmate "was false and misleading."
Along with Clark, the three met with Corrections Secretary Mike Crews, who referred them to Miguel's office. But the inspector general's office denied them whistleblower status, and not long after, Land and Clark faced allegations that they had violated a health-care privacy law and Department of Corrections policy by sharing records in another investigation with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The employees' lawyer, Steven Andrews, is a frequent foe of Scott. Andrews is engaged in a long-running dispute with Scott and the state Cabinet about the right to buy property next to a historic site in Tallahassee, known as The Grove. He also contributed to Bill McCollum, the governor's opponent in the 2010 GOP primary, and tried to force Scott's campaign to release a deposition in a lawsuit involving a health-care chain that Scott helped found.
The case also comes as the Department of Corrections is under fire in media reports over the suspicious deaths of inmates. Crews issued a statement Tuesday promising accountability for anyone guilty of wrongdoing.
"If laws were broken by DOC officers or staff, those persons will be swiftly prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Crews said. "Safe and ethically run prisons are central to keeping our crime rate at a historic low."