Report describes inhumane treatment of inmate
The future of Dr. Mark Flowers as the director of Volusia County’s Corrections Department will likely be decided at a private meeting Dec. 22.
Flowers stands accused of harassing employees, creating a hostile work environment, and ordering the possible abuse of jail inmates.
Following two internal investigations, Public Protection Director Mark Swanson gave Flowers official notice that he intends to fire him from the job he has held since 2017.
“Accordingly and based on close review of the circumstances of your actions … I concur that your ability to continue leading the Department of Corrections has been irreparably damaged by your behaviors,” Swanson wrote in a memorandum to Flowers dated Dec. 7. “Conduct of this nature is contrary to the standards of professionalism expected from the Volusia County Division of Corrections personnel.”
Flowers has challenged his pending termination, and he has hired a lawyer, Kelly Chanfrau, to assist him in his defense. An internal staff meeting behind closed doors is slated for Thursday, Dec. 22, to give Flowers an opportunity to head off the firing.
Word of trouble at the top of the Corrections Department came only days ago, when the county’s Community Information office issued a press release late in the afternoon on a Friday, summarizing the situation and the possible termination of Flowers.
The problems described in the news release were serious enough that Flowers had been placed on paid administrative leave since Aug. 15. Meanwhile, Steven Smith, the warden of the jail, is serving as interim director of the Corrections Department.
In his memo to Flowers, Swanson listed five broad types of shortcomings attributed to Flowers:
— “Willful neglect in the performance of the duties of the position to which the employee is assigned
— “Disregard for or frequent violations of county ordinances, departmental policies and regulations, including safety rules
— “Any conduct, on or off duty, that interferes with effective job performance or has an adverse effect on the county
— “Incompetent or unsatisfactory performance of duties
— “Any other conduct or action of such seriousness that disciplinary action is considered warranted.”
One of the internal investigations of Flowers was launched in May by the county’s Human Resources Department, after “several Corrections Officers” brought forward “their concerns of an [six] hostile work environment,” according to the HR Department report.
Flowers, according to the report, “sent e-mails to all [Corrections] staff on several occasions … that ended with ‘if you … you will face discipline up to and including termination.”
The report also said that following an incident involving the use of force against a jail inmate, Flowers “told all staff, including those who had nothing to do with the incident in question, that they were probationary employees.”
Flowers, according to the HR report, “tainted” an investigation of the use of force against an inmate by showing video of the incident to other members of his staff, including nurses and corrections officers who were not on duty when the incident occurred.
“Dr. Flowers stated that he only showed the video to the medical staff and did not know what the others were talking about,” the report reads. “He indicated that the videos were available to every officer in the jail and that there were shared passwords and log-ins. He did not indicate that as director, he did anything to stop this behavior, despite the fact that it is a violation of Corrections Division Policy 5.7.2 ‘Passwords and other authenticators are considered confidential and should not be shared with others.’”
The report further states “Flowers tried to coerce officers who were not on duty at the time of the use of force to write statements about the incident. Dr. Flowers seemed to predetermine that [a corrections officer] was guilty of an inappropriate use of force prior to the completion of the internal affairs investigation.”
A second probe of Flowers came from the county’s Public Protection Administration. While the Human Resources investigation into an alleged hostile work environment was taking place, “several officers, and supervisors indicated that Director Mark Flowers had ordered them to treat inmates improperly or possibly illegally,” the Public Protection document notes.
These allegations prompted Swanson to order his own agency to look into Flowers’ work. The result was a 17-page report. One episode contained in the report deals with a difficult inmate placed in a special unit of the jail, where those held there may be restrained because they pose a danger to others or to themselves. The inmates sometimes are placed in four-point restraints, meaning both arms and both legs are tied down.
“[A senior corrections officer] advised inmates are often 4-pointed on the mental health unit (Unit 2) for their own safety,” the document reads. “Usually the purpose of the 4-point is to prevent the inmate from harming him [sic] or herself. When asked if he had ever seen inmates 4 pointed for disciplinary reasons, he said he had not but he had seen inmates left in 4-restraints longer than he believed necessary. He specified [a particular inmate] was left 4-pointed for an extended period because he was violent toward corrections staff.”
The senior corrections officer “clarified that Dir. Flowers made the decision to 4-point [the inmate] face down … on a concrete slab where the mattress goes at Dir. Flowers [sic] directive. [The officer] believed [the inmate] was 4-pointed in this manner for at least a day. [The officer] explained he had not seen this technique used in his 19 years as a corrections officer and has never been trained to 4-point inmates in this manner.”
Medical personnel, the report noted, “indicated … that they were not comfortable with [the inmate] being restrained in this position.”
Another corrections officer gave his account of the inmate thus restrained.
“Dir. Flowers was ‘really upset’ at [the inmate’s] continuous assaults on staff. Dir. Flowers ordered [him] 4-pointed face down on the concrete bunk, with no mattress, and no clothes.”
The investigator who wrote the internal-affairs report said the officer had said he had told Flowers the 4-pointing treatment of the inmate “didn’t feel right.” Flowers, the narrative continues, “told him, ‘There should be nothing we should be worried about. He had clearance from legal and he has done this in several other institutions that he’s been at.’”
Based on “sworn statements from multiple witnesses,” the report concluded the inmate in question had indeed been restrained “in the prone position, naked, on a concrete bunk for 2-3 days,” June 10-12, 2021.
Flowers made a written complaint to County Manager Recktenwald. Flowers’ letter opens with a statement in which Flowers writes that he had repeatedly been trying to alert his higher-ups about illegal and unlawful actions taking place at the jail.
Within his five-page letter are statements of disappointment and dismay over the allegations leveled against him.
“Many of my peers have asked me what is going on, as if I had done something wrong or even been fired,” Flowers wrote.
“The level of stress that my family and I have been undergoing as a result of you and Mr. Swanson’s failure to address the real issues is indescribable. … I have never acted in any manner that would result in me losing my integrity or reputation in the Corrections profession,” Flowers wrote.