Monday, October 12, 2009

PRIDE the Florida Department of Corrections and Murder

In Memory of Donna Jo Fitzgerald - and questions as to why she had to die.
This week the trial of Enoch Hall begins in Dayton Beach, Florida. On June 28th of last year, Hall was incarcerated in the FDOC at the Tomoka CI. He was serving two life sentences in Florida and had another 42 year federal sentence awaiting him if ever released by Florida. Hall's charges included rape, attempted murder, sexual assault and more. He was listed by the FDOC as a "high risk" inmate, labeled and HO-4 or 5. That's about as high a security classification as an inmate can have absent a death penalty.

PRIDE had an evening overtime project operating in June of 2008. Hall was employed by PRIDE as a welder in their Heavy Equipment Industry located at Tomoka. He hid from the lone female supervisor when it was time to return to the housing area that night. His absence was noted when the other inmates were returned. The supervisor, 50 year old Donna Fitzgerald notified authorities of the missing inmate and returned to PRIDE's plant to search for Hall.

Fitzgerald located inmate Hall in a welding shed. When she attempted to take him into custody, Hall attacked here, stabbing the woman repeatedly. She put up a fight - attested to by the defense wounds later found on her hands and arms - but the brutal attack took her life. An hour later other officers searching for her and the missing inmate located both at the PRIDE plant. They found Ms. Fitzgerald draped over a hand cart, partially wrapped in a blanket, her uniform pants and underwear rolled down around her ankles.

Hall was apprehended near her body and made statements that he didn't know "...why I killed her. I just snapped." Apparently as officers broke into the shed area, their presence stopped Hall's rape of Fitzgerald's lifeless body.

This brutal incident is hard to stomach. This is especially true when one looks back to 2003 and Charlotte Correctional Institution. In June of that year a female correctional officer, Darla Latherm was was assigned to supervising 5 close custody inmates working a nighttime construction detail in one of the dormitories. All 5 had lengthy records with convictions for murder, rape and assaults.

At approximately 10:00 in the evening two inmates were spotted with a ladder against the inner perimeter fence and another inmate was seen between two of the security fences. The inmates by the ladder turned and ran back into the dorm being worked on, leaving the ladder against the fence. While some officers apprehended the inmate between fences trying to escape, other officers went to A-Dorm where the construction crew was working and where the fleeing inmates had gone into.

In A-Dorm, Quad 3 the officers found Officer Darla Latherm secreted behind a locked door to a mop closet. She had been brutally murdered by bludgeoning with a sledgehammer to the head and face. One of the inmates assigned to the work detail was located locked in a cell with similar head injuries - he died days later.

As in the recent murder of Fitzgerald, the FDOC claimed there were regulations in place limiting female officers supervision of violent inmates and sexual offenders. In addition there was always supposed to be 2 officers supervising such work crews at night. Neither regulation was obeyed. Investigations after both of these horrendous murders determined that on both occasions, the inmates were under supervised by female officers who should not have been responsible for solely supervising such violent offenders and known sexual predators.
PRIDE Enterprises had been warned on no less than five occasion by this author that the hiring of inmates serving long or life sentences in a "Vocational Training Program" defeated the purpose of the entire program: training and acquisition of skills to allow an ex-offender to become better able to gain employment once released. In addition I argued time and again that the use of this class of inmate not only restricts inmates with shorter terms from availing themselves of that training, but it places the most violent inmates with little to lose in close proximity to "Class A" and "Class AA" tools. These tools could be used as weapons or to manufacture escape paraphernalia.
I attended 3 PRIDE Board of Directo meetings in 2006 where I discussed this very topic and urged them to cease the practice. In December 2007 I released and Independent Review of PRIDE and the federal PIECP program. In that report I again warned against the continued practice of allowing lifers and those serving huge sentences, as it endangered staff and other inmates alike.
Sadly my last warning on this subject came on June 25, 2008 in a discussion with Florida Department of Corrections Secretary, Walter McNeil. McNeil phoned me at 5:00 in the afternoon about my concerns about PRIDE and their operations and business practices. I again told Secretary McNeil how dangerous using those long termed sentenced inmates in the vocational program was due to the tool and safety issue. By the close of the conversation Secretary McNeil offered no comments about the issues raised and discussed.
Within 3 hours of our hanging up, Donna Jo Fitzgerald was dead from her injuries allegedly inflicted by Enoch Hall. She left behind a son, Kyle who had lost his father in the past year and in one instant found himself completely parent-less. Ms. Fitzgerald was a daughter, mother, aunt and sister. Her family lost a valuable member of their family...why?
The investigations began and in October of 2008 the FDOC Inspector General released their report. Unbelievably - but not surprisingly - this report indicated that under the then current rules and regulations, the FDOC seemed to be in compliance with most of them. The report was more or less indicative that Institutional staff members failed to follow proper protocols: classification, the Chief Correctional Officer, Classification Supervisor, Warden and 2 Assistant Wardens. They failed to supervise others who actually assigned Hall to PRIDE and PRIDE who requested Hall's re-assignments to the industry even after his bouts with disciplinary confinement.
For instance, FDOC and PRIDE policies disallow an inmate from being assigned to the Prison Industries unless prior to hiring they are disciplinary free (DR) for a period of six months. Once hired as a worker, an inmates forfeits his job if he receives a DR. In Hall's case, he received no less than 4 DR's during his assignments to PRIDE. One was for assault upon another inmate and one was for exposing himself to a female staff member. In each of the 4 cases, PRIDE requested Hall be reassigned to PRIDE as he was a welder, and they claimed institutional need for his abilities. In each case, Hall was not even made to complete his confinement sentences. The head of Classification at Tomoka CI simply wrote a memo to the institutional classification team overriding their reclassifying Hall to another job. This issue alone would have saved Ms. Fitzgerald's life.
How did the FDOC staff at Tomoka and PRIDE's employees pay for their actions or lack of actions? Five FDOC personnel were demoted one pay grade and transferred elsewhere in the huge Department. PRIDE? Their Industry Manager, Bruce Hall who should have been there that night - or seen to it that another supervisor was there to supervise the inmates - was transferred to PRIDE's Sales Department. This move was seen as a lateral occupational change.
Maybe others who follow my blog can explain to me how any of this is right. When doing that consider this: the FDOC is attempting to deny death benefits to Ms. Fitzgerald's family, because in their eyes she was "moonlighting for PRIDE" that night, her official day shift being over. This despite she was in uniform, had assigned FDOC radio, was on duty to fulfill those duties supervising FDOC inmates. Another FDOC excuse to try and deny benefits? PRIDE was paying Tomoka officers to supervise the night shift inmates, instead of simply reimbursing the DOC for their time (which is now done).
At what point and after how many needless, senseless and preventable deaths of good hard working FDOCemployees will Florida arrive at holding the FDOC and PRIDE accountable for their actions?

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