Tallahassee — The office that is supposed to serve as watchdog over the Florida Department of Environmental Protection suffers from distemper, as evidenced by lawsuits filed against it this year. The latest suit, filed yesterday, details how the DEP Inspector General railroaded a long-time law enforcement supervisor in retaliation for blowing the whistle, according to pleadings posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Yesterday’s suit on behalf of David King, a former Captain in the DEP Division of Law Enforcement, describes how King had previously complained about an improper reporting of a fictitious crime by senior administration officials, as well as the attempt by senior management to hire an individual whose qualifications were suspect, but who was friends with one of King’s superiors. King was terminated after he refused to condone the actions of his superiors. The Inspector General’s Office participated in the efforts to fire him. King appealed that decision to the Public Employee Relations Commission where he won and was ordered reinstated. Then, after being ordered to reinstate King, the DEP, through the Inspector General’s Office, began a new investigation against King in yet another effort to oust him.
King’s suit parallels a suit filed by PEER in January on behalf of Thomas White, the senior chemist in the DEP Port St. Lucie laboratory until he was terminated on the basis of an allegedly bogus Inspector General investigation. White had reported off-the-chart water pollution levels in South Florida as well as integrity problems that could disqualify the state for federal grants subsidizing its clean water program.
“In Florida’s DEP, the Inspector General is used to perform political hatchet jobs on whistleblowers while turning a blind eye to the most egregious agency malfeasance,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Three years ago we brought this issue to the public’s attention when it was learned that the DEP used political contributions in considering whether or not to hire, fire, or promote applicants. In that case, the OIG failed to conduct any meaningful investigation into the agency’s misconduct, essentially rubber-stamping it.”
The King suit brought by Danielle Joyner-Kelley, a former Assistant State Attorney, claims First Amendment and whistleblower law violations as well as a variety of other wrongdoing, including civil conspiracy. Significantly, these personal damage suits are being brought not only against DEP and the Office of Inspector General but also against Pinky Hall and her top deputies in their personal capacities. The PEER suit for White has already survived dismissal motions and is proceeding to trial.
“These lawsuits show that something is rotten in the Inspector General’s Office,” Phillips added. “Under its long-time leader Pinky Hall, the Inspector General’s Office combines the worst aspects of the KGB and the Keystone Kops.”