Saturday, May 16, 2009

43 stun-gunned at prisons' Take Your Kids to Work Day

BY MARC CAPUTO
HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
TALLAHASSEE -- A total of 43 children were directly and indirectly shocked by electric stun guns during simultaneous ''Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day'' events gone wrong at three state prisons, according to new information provided Friday by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Also, a group of kids was exposed to tear gas during a demonstration at another lockup.

Three prison guards have been fired, two have resigned and 16 more employees -- from corrections officers to a warden -- will be disciplined due to the incidents that unfolded April 23, said DOC Secretary Walt McNeil. An investigation is ongoing.

None of the children in any of the incidents required medical attention or was notably harmed, McNeil said. He said the children, who ranged in age from 5 to 17, were all children of prison officials.

In nearly every case, the guards had permission from parents or grandparents to administer the ''electronic immobilization devices,'' McNeil said.

''I can't imagine what these officers were thinking to administer this device to children, nor can I imagine why any parent would allow them to do so,'' McNeil said. ``This must not happen again.''

McNeil called the episode ''embarrassing'' for the nation's fourth-largest prison system. It has been rocked by far more serious scandal.

A McNeil predecessor, Jimmy Crosby, is incarcerated in a federal prison for taking bribes. Other guards were busted in a steroid ring, rampant pilfering, misusing inmate labor, and beer-soaked brawls stemming from a cutthroat culture of interprison softball games, in which a semi-pro baseball player was given a no-show job to help one institution win on the diamond.

The prison chief who cleaned up the mess left by Crosby, Jim McDonough, repeatedly said his mission was to end the ''culture of brutality'' that permeated the prison system.

McNeil repeatedly stressed that the stun-gunning only happened at three of the 55 institutions and that it wasn't part of a widespread practice. Still, he acknowledged that it was ''logical'' to assume other children had been shocked on other take-your-kids-to-work days.

One of the fired guards said the practice had occurred before, but so far prison officials have found no evidence that it has happened elsewhere. McNeil noted that the stun guns used differ from ''Tasers,'' which shoot electrified wires at their targets and deliver a far more powerful dose of amperage.

So far this year, none of the devices have been used on the 100,000 prison inmates -- only the children of DOC workers. McNeil said the use of the guns violated DOC policies. Of the children exposed to the stun guns, 14 were directly shocked at Franklin, Martin, and Indian River correctional institutions.

Twenty-nine others were indirectly exposed when they held hands with a person who was shocked. By circling up, the electricity could flow from one child's hands to the next. After hearing of the incident at Franklin, McNeil said, he conducted an investigation that revealed the stun-gunning at the other institutions.

During the investigation, officials also learned that officials at Lake Correctional Institution demonstrated the use of tear gas, which endangered some of the kids.

Asked if he had ever seen anything like this in his 30 years in law enforcement, McNeil paused before saying ``I've never seen anything like this.''

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