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Several COs accused of avoiding Hurricane Irma duty reinstated

Several detention deputies were investigated for allegedly not responding to help a Hurricane Irma jail evacuation


By Kevin Wadlow
Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)

MONROE COUNTY, Fla. — Several detention deputies investigated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for not responding to help a Hurricane Irma jail evacuation have returned to work.

“It’s now a closed matter. We’re happy to have it behind us,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said Tuesday.

An overturned trailer is shown in a trailer park in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in north Bahia Honda Key, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
An overturned trailer is shown in a trailer park in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in north Bahia Honda Key, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

“We continue to struggle with staffing issues,” Ramsay said. “Not all of it is because of this, but part of it is.”

About half-dozen detention officers represented by Teamsters Local 769 in Miami have served suspensions that union officer and business agent Roly Pina generally estimated at 10 to 15 days each.

“Everybody’s case was a little bit different based on what transpired in their situation,” Pina said. “No two cases were alike.”

One jail sergeant has been demoted back to detention-deputy status, Ramsay said.

Six security officers or detention officers no longer work for the law-enforcement agency.

Two were fired when they reportedly walked off the job when ordered to assist in a first-ever inmate evacuation to a mainland jail as the Category 4 hurricane approached the Lower Keys Sept. 10.

Four other employees resigned during an investigation conducted by the Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs office.

“Every case [the Teamsters] had was amicably worked out,” Pina said. “We reached a solution on all the deputies involved in this chaotic evacuation. All the [detention] deputies we represented are still working for Monroe County.”

“A lot depended on why they didn’t show up or didn’t call in,” Ramsay said. “There were different levels [of sanctions] based on the circumstances.”

Road-patrol deputies are represented by the Fraternal Order of Police.

The Sheriff’s Office originally planned to keep all Monroe County inmates, either serving local sentences or awaiting court dates, in the Stock Island jail built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. When Irma’s track indicated the Lower Keys very likely would be the site of a major-hurricane landfall, the jail was ordered to be evacuated Sept. 9.

During an “Alpha-Bravo” shift declared during an emergency, detention officers are required to work 12-hour shifts with no days off until the emergency has passed.

The Sheriff’s Office says local 112 corrections officers worked to transport and manage the 458 inmates transferred to the mainland, the first such mass move from the Florida Keys of its kind. All inmates returned to Monroe County by Sept. 25.

The missing officers “made it tough for us on staffing and management,” Ramsay said in October. “It put a burden on those who did their jobs by increasing their workload. It made us less secure in the buses and in the jail.”

Current staffing problems are mostly connected to the lack of housing, Ramsay said. “We’re trying to recruit new employees, but it’s difficult in a storm-prone area with the highest cost of living in the state.”

©2017 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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