This is an update on a previous article.
High-level members of the Volusia County hierarchy — but not the county manager — met behind closed doors Dec. 22 to consider whether to keep or terminate the director of the county jail.
Corrections Director Mark Flowers has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 15, while two internal investigations into allegations of abuse of prisoners have taken place. Flowers, who has been chief of the Corrections Department since 2017, is paid $148,460 a year.
“The county can confirm that a meeting took place today with Dr. Mark Flowers and his counsel, Kelly Chanfrau,” Volusia County government spokesman Kevin Captain said Dec. 22. “The county provided him an opportunity to share additional information related to his case. A final decision is forthcoming, the timing of which is undetermined.”
The closed-door meeting took place on the second floor of the Historic Volusia County Courthouse. To avoid any attention from the news media, the parties left the meeting through passageways within the building that are not open to the public.
Captain said besides Flowers and his attorney, the meeting was attended by Public Protection Director Mark Swanson; David Vanis, an internal-affairs investigator; and Jeffrey Mandel, an outside attorney under contract with the county. County Manager George Recktenwald, who will have the ultimate word on the fate of Flowers’ career, was not in attendance, Captain said.
After Flowers‘ superior, Public Protection Director Swanson, gave Flowers notice of his intention to terminate him, Flowers appealed to County Manager Recktenwald. Recktenwald may uphold Swanson’s decision, retain Flowers, or assign him to another post within the county administration.
Whether Flowers has a future with county government has not yet been disclosed.
The county’s Human Resources Department and Public Protection’s internal-affairs unit have concluded their probes of complaints brought forward by employees under Dr. Flowers’ supervision.
Those investigations sustained allegations that Flowers created a hostile work environment and allowed or ordered corrections officers to engage in actions that made them feel uncomfortable. The findings of the investigations are now being reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and what action, if any, the state agency may take or recommend is not yet known.
Included in the county’s internal probes was an account of an inmate placed in a special unit of the jail for punishment for his alleged assaults on jail staff. The inmate was put into a 4-point position, meaning his hands and feet were restrained, and he was kept in that position without clothing for an extended period of time in June 2021.
Based on “sworn statements from multiple witnesses,” the report noted the inmate was restrained “in the prone position, naked, on a concrete bunk for 2-3 days.”
Asked if the county may be the target of a federal investigation into conditions in the jail, or if a grand jury may look into the allegations against Flowers, Assistant County Attorney Heather Wallace said she is not aware of any such investigations.
When will the county hear from the FDLE?
“Hopefully soon,” she answered.
May the county be liable for a civil-rights suit under, perhaps the Eighth Amendment, which forbids “cruel and unusual punishment?”
“I’m not a constitutional attorney,” Wallace replied.
Flowers is an at-will employee of county government, meaning he serves at the pleasure of the county manager. As such, Flowers does not have the civil-service employment protections of the county’s rank-and-file workforce.
State probe clears six jail guards
A review of allegations of excessive force in subduing an inmate has ended with the exoneration of six corrections officers at the Volusia County Branch Jail.
The April 26 incident dealt with injuries sustained by an inmate who had physically fought with his cellmate and who had to be restrained because he refused to follow the officers’ commands. In the violent struggle that developed, officers struck the inmate to force him to comply with their orders to cease resistance.
The report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement came after County Manager Recktenwald asked the agency to review “the allegations of unlawful actions within the Volusia County Division of Corrections.” The manager’s call for the higher-up review of the county’s probe came, according to official documents, after Corrections Director Mark Flowers had requested Recktenwald to look into the incident, sensing a possible cover-up.
“A review of the internal affairs investigation conducted by Capt. David Vanis of the VCDPP [Volusia County Department of Public Protection] revealed the investigation was unable to determine if the use of force used against [the inmate] by the officers was excessive in nature,” the FDLE report reads.
“According to the investigation report, the resistance described by the officers did justify the force they admitted to using against [the inmate],” the document continues. The county’s internal-affairs investigation, the FDLE notes, “determined the allegations against [four officers] were not sustained. Further, the investigation determined the allegations against [two other officers] were unfounded.”
In the FDLE’s interview with the inmate, he “admitted to fighting … and confirmed that he was struck twice in the face” by his cellmate.
The FDLE’s report went to the State Attorney’s Office of the 7th Judicial Circuit for review, comment and action, if that agency deemed it necessary. The prosecutors are closing the case, as summarized in a letter dated Dec. 21 and signed by Assistant State Attorney Ashley Terwilliger.
“After reviewing all of the evidence provided by FDLE I find insufficient evidence to proceed and no further action is warranted by this office,” she concluded.
Although this use-of-force question has been resolved, Community Information Director Kevin Captain confirmed the other allegations against Flowers, such as those involving a hostile work environment and ordering corrections officers to do things that they said made them feel uncomfortable, are still outstanding. When the county manager may decide on Flowers’ future is still undetermined.