Florida corrections whistleblower sues to get his job back

By Mike Vasilinda - Tallahassee Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Reports of abuse and poor conditions in Florida prisons are being aired by former and current correctional officers. A whistleblower who first shared his story with News4Jax more than four years ago is fighting his termination, which his lawyer calls retaliation.

In November 2014, we interviewed Correctional Officer Tim Butler, but we didn’t tell you his name or show his face.

“I feel my life is in more danger than its ever been," he said at the time.

No longer incognito no, Butler said he was called on the carpet almost immediately.

“They always said they knew it was me because of my boots, the way I walked," Butler said.

According to Butler's lawyer, Ryan Andrews, what followed was a year of intimidation.

“For violating his First Amendment rights, they paid him a $99,000 settlement and they’ve been gunning for him ever since," Andrews said. "You would think the department would be happy when he reports wrongdoing or abuse of power, misuse of position and inmate beating and sneaking in contraband. You would think he would be rewarded for that, but instead, when he reported it, they terminated him a couple months later.”

When Butler was been given his termination paperwork, he was accused of being late and using unwarranted force. He called the charges trumped up.

“You know, I’ve tried to tell them about the food. I tried to tell them about the drugs and stuff we have come in,” Butler said.

He said he was fired after he complained about drugs, drones and increasingly dangerous working conditions.

“And I kept on asking them, I said, 'I need some help in the chow hall. Need some more males in the chow hall,'" Butler said. "They refused to say that, they refused to even do that.”

He also complained about how inmates were being treated.

“The snitch got killed. They failed to protect him," Butler said.

Butler is fighting to get his job back -- not so he can go back to work, but so he can resign with his integrity intact.

Butler isn’t alone in his complaints.. A published report shows that a dozen current or former employees of one prison in Santa Rosa County have filed for whistleblower protection.

Department of Corrections officials admit Florida prisons remain chronically understaffed. A parade of wardens told lawmakers this year they feared losing control of their institutions, had no money to repair facilities and couldn’t hire enough officers, forcing those still working to put in long hours.

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