Tuesday, April 17, 2007
By BRENT KALLESTAD
Associated Press Writer
TALLAHASSEE, FL (AP) -- Five more officials from the Hendry Correctional Institution at Immokalee near the Florida Everglades were fired Friday and three more, including a "misguided" prison chaplain, were placed on paid leave, corrections chief Jim McDonough said.
The dismissals and suspensions followed a March 21 party at the home of Col. William Avant, during which threatening calls were made to a prison guard.
"It was a death threat apparently," McDonough said. "But that will be for the state attorney to decide."
Avant had been in charge of security before being fired along with seven others last week for their roles in the March 14 beating of an inmate. Avant held the party at his home on prison grounds just hours after being terminated by McDonough.
About 15 prison staff were at the party and at about 9:15 p.m. at least three telephone calls were made to the prison threatening a fellow guard, Sgt. Bruce Sooy, who initially reported the prisoner abuse.
State Attorney Steve Russell has received reports from the Department of Corrections investigation along with local police who aided the night of the ruckus on the prison grounds.
McDonough, after learning of the threats at roughly midnight, locked down the prison during the early morning hours of March 22 and immediately ordered in reinforcements to ensure order at the prison.
"The firings, for many of them, is the least of their concerns now," McDonough said.
"He (Avant) goes back to his quarters on institutional grounds, but instead of doing the decent thing , like clearing out his quarters and quietly fade away, he throws a party," McDonough said Friday.
"And who does he invite? A number of the individuals fired already for the apparent abuse of an inmate."
The chaplain, Robert Wiederman, was put on administrative leave pending further investigation.
"The chaplain's job down there is to give spiritual guidance and comfort to the inmates," McDonough said.
"The most alarming thing was the statement of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. What am I supposed to make of that?"
"He seemed to be championing the wrong people," McDonough said.
James Brown, William Diaz, Kevin Filipowicz, Tina Morgan and Stephen Whitney were the officers dismissed Friday.
It was not immediately known if any of them had attorneys. Meanwhile, the former warden, Carol Starling, and her assistant, James Tridico, who were earlier suspended, resigned and two other guards were reassigned Friday.
Starling and Tridico were removed from their posts after a prisoner, Charles Gundlah, was allegedly beaten and choked by four guards. The guards were fired two days later. Gundlah is serving a life sentence for first degree murder. Hendry houses 1,062 adult males under medium and minimum security.