Wednesday, May 9, 2007

8 former employees at Hendry prison free on bail


Eight former prison employees charged with abusing inmates at Hendry Correctional Institution were freed on bail after turning themselves in to state authorities on charges ranging from abusing inmates to grand theft.

The eight, all men, turned themselves in late Tuesday, Samantha Syoen, communications director for State Attorney Stephen Russell of Fort Myers, said Wednesday.

Bail was set at $1,000 each, the arrest warrants showed.

Former guards William Thiessen, Phillip Barger, Randy Hazen, Gabriel Cotilla, Kevin Filipowicz, Ruben Ibarra and Stephen Whitney were charged with first degree misdemeanors while James Brown was charged with grand theft."Isn't it interesting that here is an agency that takes a big black brush and runs it across these officers and all of a sudden it's just misdemeanors," said veteran defense attorney Robert Hagaman of Naples, who represents the Public Benevolent Association in southwest Florida.

"If they had proof of the higher charges, they would've charged them,"They were among 13 prison employees fired from the medium and minimum security prison where some former guards are accused in a series of abuses ranging from coercing sex to forcing some inmates to clean toilets with their tongues.

Four guards were fired two days after Sgt. Bruce Sooy noticed several fresh bruises on inmate Charles Gundlah's neck on March 14.

Officials said Gundlah was removed from his cell and taken to an area out of sight of security cameras and beaten on the head and choked into unconsciousness by guards after he filed a grievance complaining about his treatment.

Gundlah is serving a life sentence for first degree murder and Sooy has been subsequently promoted to major.

McDonough, who has spent most of his 15 months in charge of the state prisons cleaning up a system beset with scandal, said federal authorities are looking at possible civil rights violations.

Last month, McDonough's predecessor as the head of Florida's prison system, James Crosby, was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a prison contractor.

A top Crosby aide, Allen Clark, was sentenced to 31 months in prison for his involvement.

No comments: