Mo. COs: DOC making prisons increasingly hostile places to work
One officer alleges she was transferred from HR to work with inmates because a brain disorder made her untrustworthy with confidential information
KTVI-TV, St. Louis
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The running tab is now more than $116 million for what jurors say corrections’ officers are shorted. Meanwhile, officers say their workplace is increasingly hostile.
Farmington Correctional Center Supervisor Joni Light said the D.O.C. moved her from Human Resources after she was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that can cause brief amnesia. She explained, “You continue to function, do whatever it is you do, you just don't necessarily have memory of it, immediate access to the memory of it. Apparently, this has been going on my entire life. I just didn't know it.”
Her superiors still think she can work, but she's ordered out with the inmates, rather than behind a desk working H.R. Why? Light says administration apparently thinks, “I can't be trusted with confidential information. I can't testify in court even though every attorney that I talk to says there's no reason why. And my memory does come back.”
We found the D.O.C. based its decision on a doctor at "The Center for Health and Wellness" in Kirkwood. Light says it's the same place the Department sends everyone. She said, “Regardless of what your condition is, if you have a broken arm, broken leg or a cavernoma (like I have), you are sent to a psychologist to be evaluated.”
I asked the State for a list of any other doctor it uses to conduct IMEs. A spokesman could only provide the name of the doctor who assessed Light. I then asked for the financial breakdown of what you've paid for "independent medical exams" also known as IME's - to determine fitness for work. It's cost $224,189.90 over five years. Yet, Light says she can't get a copy of the doctor’s report. She suspects her move was really about her H.R. decisions.
“I dug until I got to the bottom of it. I didn't gloss over it. I didn't sweep it under the rug," She explained.
Neither did former Major Bill Vallier. He says he was forced out for speaking up. He was head of all corrections officers at Algoa in Jefferson City. Vallier wrote a staffing warning memo in July 2016, saying "...this is the perfect storm for a very unfortunate and/or large-scale incident."
A 100-day lockdown at Crossroads Prison this summer was one of many violent examples he warned about. He said, “Now it's happened and you're not even admitting it or doing anything about it?” He continued, “That`s more than I could tolerate so I'll pay that price and put it out there.” Vallier printed out internal reports he said his department ignored. He handed them to legislators to get action. Vallier said D.O.C. administration responded telling him he would be fired for unauthorized use of a state computer and lose his retirement and pension -- or he could resign in good standing.
He said, “I didn't deny it. I admitted it to the investigator as well. I knew like I said, when I made the conscious decision that somebody has got to report this, I knew at some point that could result in my paying a pretty hefty price for it.” Reporter Chris Hayes asked, “If you had it to do over again?” Vallier responded, “100 times, I'd do it again. The staff deserves it.” Neither Light nor Vallier is currently suing, but many others have. Those lawsuits claiming D.O.C. is hostile have cost Missouri taxpayers more than $50 million over five years.
Meanwhile, that judgment a jury awarded for shorting officers' pay is still rising.