Florida prisons whistleblower fights termination, says it's retaliation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Reports of abuse and poor conditions in Florida prisons are being aired by former and current correctional officers. One whistleblower, who first shared his story with us more than four years ago, is fighting his termination, which his lawyer says is 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 it's ever been," said Butler.

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

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

What followed, according to his lawyer Ryan Andrews, 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. He’s a preacher," said Andrews. “You would think the Department [of Corrections] 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.”

Now, Butler has been given his termination paperwork; accused of being late and using unwarranted force. He calls 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,” said Butler.

Butler says the firing came 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.' They refused to say that, they refused to even do that," he said.

He also complained about how inmates are being treated.

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

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

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.

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 work long hours.