Sunday, November 29, 2009

Indian River Correctional Institute warden demoted, transferred

By Lamaur Stancil

Thursday, July 9, 2009

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Officials for the state Department of Corrections announced Thursday they demoted the warden of the Indian River Correctional Institute following their investigation of the use of electrical devices on students visiting the facility in April.

Ricky Dixon was demoted to assistant warden and transferred to the Okeechobee Correctional Institution on May 15, said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for the department.

The department investigated incidents at correctional facilities in Indian River and Martin counties for Take Our Children To Work Day on April 23. In each case, the corrections officers asked the children if they wanted to feel the sensation of the electronic immobilization devices, state officials said. Several children felt the pulse from the device, they said.

The investigation was completed in May, but the state did not make details of the inquiry available until this week. The State Attorney’s Office reviewed the cases and determined no criminal charges will be filed.

At the Martin event, corrections officials asked the children to hold hands in a semicircle, with one touching one of the electrodes of the device, the report said. An officer activated the device and said the children described the feeling as a tingle, the report said.

Once the state became aware of the incidents, several officers and staff members were suspended while officials started the investigation.

None of the children were seriously hurt in the incidents, state officials said. The Inspector General’s report included photos of marks left on the arms and torsos of the students from the devices used on them at the Indian River event.

Dixon was out of town on April 23 for the students’ tour of the Indian River facility, according to the report. He told state officials he became aware of the incident that day but learned more details on May 2 and reported the incident to the state, the report said.

The Inspector General determined Dixon had committed negligence and failed to report the matter in a timely fashion. Dixon was replaced by Noel Mercer, a 25-year corrections veteran who previously worked in Gulf County.

Two officers at the Indian River prison resigned during the investigation: Maj. Seth Adams, a 19-year corrections veteran, and Lt. P.J. Weisner, an 11-year veteran.

“The exercise I participated in has been a common practice,” Weisner said in his resignation letter. “At no time did I believe that any of the students were in any risk.”

The department fired Sgt. Charmaine Davis, who had worked at the Indian River facility for six years. Davis appealed but settled her complaint when the state allowed to submit her resignation rather than being fired, state officials said.

State officials also fired former Lt. Russell Bourgault at the Martin facility in Indiantown. He is scheduled for an appeal hearing at 9 a.m. Friday.

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