A group of Monroe County Sheriff’s Office employees could be fired after failing to report for duty during Hurricane Irma.
Seven people already have quit the agency, Sheriff Rick Ramsay said Wednesday.
Another nine or 10 employees, mostly detention deputies, are being investigated by the Sheriff’s Office’s Internal Affairs department for their actions when the decision was made to send 458 inmates from the Stock Island detention center to Palm Beach County on Sept. 9, the day before the Category 4 storm arrived.
“Some [employees] quit when they were ordered in,” Ramsay said. “Others said they weren’t going to Palm Beach. They were given a lawful order and they refused. Others didn’t answer their phones.”
“We're the ones who are supposed to run into a burning building,” Ramsay said. “We have a responsibility to our citizens to step up in a crisis so we expect our people to be there when the chips are down.”
The Sheriff’s Office originally planned to keep all Monroe County inmates, either serving local sentences or awaiting court dates, in the Stock Island jail, built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. When Irma’s track indicated the Lower Keys very likely would be the site of a major-hurricane landfall, the jail was ordered to be evacuated.
In an “Alpha-Bravo” shift declared during an emergency, detention officers are required to work 12-hour shifts with no days off until the emergency has passed, Ramsay said.
A courtroom deputy, a jail guard and two airport-security technicians “quit immediately,” Ramsay said. “Three others resigned later.”
Some did not report, call in or respond to calls. “A week or 10 days later, a few showed up like nothing had happened,” Ramsay said.
The Sheriff’s Office says local 112 corrections officers worked to transport and manage the inmates transferred to Palm Beach County, the first such mass move of its kind. All inmates have been returned to Monroe County, the last group on Sept. 25.
The missing officers “made it tough for us on staffing and management,” Ramsay said. “It put a burden on those who did their jobs by increasing their workload. It made us less secure in the buses and in the jail.”
“Now there’s animosity and tension between those who came in and those who didn’t,” the sheriff said. “Unless somebody comes in with an exceptionally good excuse, a lot of our people don’t want to work with them anymore.”
“We won’t tolerate this,” Ramsay said. “The citizens of Monroe County should not expect this kind of behavior from people who work for the the Sheriff’s Office.”
Internal Affairs staff will make a recommendation on the affected workers. Possible options for those found at fault range from demotion to termination. An appeals process is in place.
Missing staffers who want to keep their jobs “have a right to be heard,” the sheriff said. “Maybe some will come in, fall on their sword and acknowledge they screwed up. Then we’d have to decide whether we’re willing to give them a chance to stay or not.”
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206