Thursday, November 15, 2007

Suspended jail guard gets no response from county

The Jackson County Jail

Floridan Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jackson County jail guard Phillip Winget was suspended without pay eight months ago after he and another guard scuffled with an inmate in an encounter that tested the meaning of acceptable 'use of force.' Although a Jackson County grand jury last month found that no criminal charges should be filed against Winget, he remains on suspended status, and on Tuesday, he challenged his continued suspension.
But Jackson County Commissioners refused to discuss the matter. Board attorney Frank Baker told Winget he would have to communicate with the governing body through his attorney, instead.

An investigation of the incident was launched after State Attorney Steve Meadows received a complaint alleging that Winget and another guard used excessive force on inmate Bruce Martin in March.

A Jackson County Grand Jury in September declined to press criminal charges against Winget, stating in its written presentment that the panel believed "Winget used only the force necessary for self-protection and the protection of other inmates and correctional officers and that no criminal charges are warranted."

The same grand jury that exonerated Winget chose not to make a ruling in the case of another officer involved in the incident.

According to assistant state attorney Joe Grammer, the state attorney has closed that officer's case based on the non-action of the grand jury.

When Winget approached county commissioners Tuesday, he read from a prepared statement in which he outlined those facts and other information related to the incident and his subsequent suspension.

"This suspension came 11 days after the use of force occurred, nine days after Chief (Donald) Barnes (subsequently) approved the use of force, with no disciplinary action or internal investigation being initiated. On Sept. 14," he continued, "the Grand Jury and State Attorney's office found that no criminal charges were warranted...Two weeks later, on Sept.. 28, I received a certified letter that the board of county commission would be conducting an investigation into whether disciplinary actions can be taken for misconduct. This investigation was begun 6 1/2 months after the incident in question. This investigation has been going on for almost two months now. If I was an inmate at Jackson County Correctional Facility, the disciplinary team has only 10 days to conduct an investigation on any rule violation or misconduct, before passing sentence. My questions to the board are: How long does it take to decide if an employee has committed any misconduct? I have been suspended without pay since March 21, 2007, this is eight months. How many of you could survive without your paycheck for this long? Since our actions were approved by Chief Barnes initially, the Grand Jury and the State Attorney's Office, why are looking for more? How much longer must my family, life and livelihood be on hold?"

Winget presented his statement, then stood several moments in silence at the podium after Baker advised him he could communicate with the board on this matter through his attorney, only.

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