The recent uproar of how veterans have died waiting for care at a Phoenix VA facility was brought to light after two whistleblowers went public with what they knew. They went through proper channels to report that officials were fabricating data to hide the fact that veterans were waiting upwards of a year for sometimes life saving treatment. When the whistleblowers found out that that the investigation was moving slowly and officials were beginning to destroy evidence, they went the extra step to save the evidence and go to the media with what they knew.
The two employees still have their jobs due to the Whistleblower Protection Act. The law protects federal employees from retaliation after reporting a wrongdoing. Whistleblowers may not be transferred, denied a raise, have their hours reduced, be fired or be punished in any other way because they have exercised any right afforded to them under the law. States also have expanded whistleblowers laws, with varying protections for public and private employees.
Last year an investigator for the Florida Department of Corrections was investigating allegations of prison corruption. He stumbled upon the case of Randall Jordan-Aparo who was serving 18 months for check fraud at Franklin Correctional Institution in Carabelle, Florida. After prison officials ignored his pleas for medical care, they placed him in solitary confinement when he threatened to report them for neglect. Over the next five days, they sprayed gas into his cell with the sole purpose of suffocating him. When he died, officials and medical providers fabricated records and labeled the cause of death as complications from a rare blood disorder.
The Florida DOC investigator, Aubrey Land, has been in his job for 35 years and is a senior law enforcement inspector. There has been little he hasn’t seen, but this case shocked him. He proceeded to take the steps to report what was seemingly a high-level criminal cover-up to the chain of command. After reporting the findings to Florida law enforcement and federal authorities, Land, along with three other investigators, met with the Secretary of the Department of Corrections to report their findings in February 2014. The Secretary recommended that they report their findings to the Florida Inspector Generals since their case would appear to qualify them for whistleblower status. The four investigators filed a written request for the status and were subsequently interviewed about their findings.
After a 14 day investigation, the four investigators were denied whistleblower status.
In a lawsuit filed this month, Land and the other plaintiffs allege that the denial of whistleblower status is only the latest in retaliation for reporting the Aparo death the federal authorities. In October 2013, they were subjected to an internal affairs investigation based on what they claim are false and unwarranted complaints. They claim the investigation was in retaliation for having gone to authorities about the inmate’s death. The internal affairs complaint remains pending.
In May, the Miami Herald began a series of reports regarding the torture and deaths of inmates in Florida’s prison system. In addition to the Aparo death, they reported on the death of a mentally ill inmate in another facility that was put into a scalding hot shower and later found dead with his skin falling off. In all they have found a total of ten suspicious deaths of inmates while in custody, including three that occurred over the Fourth of July weekend. These reports have caused more problems for Aubrey Land and the other investigators as they are now being accused of providing private information to the Herald. They deny the allegations.
Land and the three investigators are suing for whistleblower protection and an injunction against the Florida DOC. They allege they are suffering retaliation in the form of being denied promotions and transfers, as well as negative reports in their employee files all due to the unfounded internal affairs investigation. Furthermore, without whistleblower status they can’t file a claim about the retaliatory measures nor are they able to request a hearing to clear their names. They are basically frozen in time, and their careers are being damaged as a result.
Two years after the death of the mentally ill inmate left in the scalding hot shower, the warden of the Dade Correctional Facility was fired this week. Jerry Cummings had worked in the DOC for 30 years. The firing is the first major action taken since the Florida DOC and Governor Rick Scott promised a full investigation into the allegations brought to light by the Herald reports. Mike Crews, the same Secretary of the DOC that Aubrey Land reported his findings to, said the firing of Jerry Cummings was to send a message and restore integrity to the system.
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