Insult to Injury

Some ex-deputies say BSO treated them like damaged goods after they got hurt on the job

Brown, still experiencing pain and limited movement, could clearly no longer work as a detention deputy in rough-and-tumble contact with prisoners, Daniel says. "As a result, we did offer to her in August 2000 a position as records technician," Daniel says. But by this time -- more than nine months after she returned to light duty -- Brown had grown wary of BSO's motives. She had attorney Michael Srebnick, retained by FOPE, send Daniel a letter pointing out that the job offered to Brown did not meet her medical restrictions but that BSO was then advertising several positions that did, "including the position she has been working in for quite some time now," he wrote. Without challenging Brown's disabled status, BSO accepted that response.

Then in January 2001, Brown came in for work as usual but was told that she didn't have a job and was sent home. Daniel sent Brown a second job offer, as a 911 operator, on March 22. In it, Daniel freely acknowledged that Workman's Comp doctors and BSO accepted that she had some physical restrictions. It concluded, "Your rejection of this offer would compel your separation from the agency." Brown quickly replied with interest but had questions about the pay cut, her retirement, seniority, and the possibility of doing office work at the jail. More than a month later, Daniel replied with negative answers on all counts. Then came the kicker: "To date, you have failed to advise the agency of your decision. Consequently, your silence in this matter is construed as a rejection of the offer," Daniel wrote. So she recommended to BSO Human Resources that Brown be fired. "Good luck in your future endeavors."

To Brown, this made Daniel's and BSO's strategy clear at last: harass her until she agreed to leave; if that didn't work, then play a shell game with half-hearted job offers until they found an excuse to fire her.

Colby Katz
Brown and her father, Don O'Brien, gave years of service to BSO. In return, she got the ax.
Colby Katz
Brown and her father, Don O'Brien, gave years of service to BSO. In return, she got the ax.

Brown called Daniel and assured her she wanted the job, as long as her questions were answered. She was given a final date of May 18, "which she ignored," Daniel says. "She basically rejected each of those offers."

But Daniel's statement is contradicted by a May 8, 2001, letter she received from Brown. In it, Brown stated that she wanted the job; she just wanted her questions answered first. By then, Brown had learned of Dr. Magana's reaction to the investigators' secret videotapes. She therefore asked, if she were officially cleared to return to full duty, why BSO was not proposing that instead of offering an inferior position.

Daniel replied on May 17 by faxing Brown what she described as a third job offer. It was the same as the second, except it offered a slight pay raise and the chance for additional raises. Daniel demanded a yes-or-no decision by 5 p.m. the next day. Brown says she immediately called Daniel and told her she would accept the job. At the time, she asked two more questions about her duty restrictions, which Daniel assured her would be no problem, she says. Daniel, however, denies that Brown ever called her about the third offer.

If Brown never called Daniel, the issue would have ended there; but events proceeded as if she had replied -- into a further labyrinth.

The amount of time Brown was given to respond to this third and final offer is the crux of the dispute. FOPE's Lambert and BSO's Daniel, sitting together with BSO Public Information Officer Cheryl Stopnick, were interviewed via speakerphone by New Times. But even together, searching through their files (the rustling of their paperwork was clearly audible), they could not get their stories to agree.

On the evening of May 17, Brown says, her sister (also a BSO deputy) called Lambert, who said that under the union agreement Brown had seven days to reply to a job offer, not one. Lambert concedes that he called Daniel. Five days later, Brown sent Daniel a letter stating her two final questions for the record (by this time, she wanted everything in writing). Again, Brown stated her willingness to take the job. But when she called Daniel to ask if she had seven calendar days or seven business days, Daniel told her she had already missed the deadline. Alarmed, Brown called Lambert -- whose story had changed, she says. Now, he said he'd told her five days. "What kind of drugs are you on?" Lambert asked, according to Brown.

"I don't know where she got that information from, but it's obviously some sort of confusion of facts on her part," Lambert tells New Times. "Her recollection of things was so different from mine that I just wondered who I was talking to. Every time I talked to her, she had a different recollection of previous situations."

Not that Lambert's memory is any clearer. The extension Daniel granted was "a short number of days," he says. "I don't know, maybe five, six days, something along those lines." He thinks Brown was "trying to cut her own deals with supervisors" to get a better deal than the union could.

And Daniel's recollection is still different. She granted only two days, she says. And even if Brown thought she had five days, she didn't respond until May 24, seven days later. "We didn't understand why she needed so much time to ponder the offer," Daniel says. "So from my perspective, this was simply another way to delay."

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