Insult to Injury

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

But a letter from Brown to Daniel, in Brown's personnel file, is dated May 22 -- five days after the last offer. In it, Brown asks for written confirmation of Daniel's answer to two questions "that we had previously discussed," she wrote, "so I may return the job acceptance paperwork back to your office prior to my deadline of acceptance of this job offer."

After hearing what she considered to be Lambert's abrupt about-face, Brown feared collusion between FOPE and BSO, so she immediately hired a private attorney to try to save her job.

Daniel waited until June 7 to recommend that BSO Human Resources fire Brown. But notice never reached Brown herself, she says. Indeed, on June 19, her new attorney, Richard Norat, sent a letter to BSO Human Resources asking to be informed of any attempt to fire Brown. All she got was a letter informing her that she was now eligible for COBRA. Lambert said he didn't know why Brown wasn't immediately informed of her termination.

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.

A copy of Brown's termination notice does turn up in her personnel file. It bears dates ranging from June 18 to 21 and is finalized with a scrawl similar to Sheriff Jenne's note of condolence from 34 months earlier. New Times unsuccessfully sought comment from Jenne on the plight of his ex-deputies. "Sheriff Jenne's not really inclined to talk to you about this issue," BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal told us.

When Brown called the BSO benefits section asking for her last paycheck, she was told she was terminated "not in good standing" so she wasn't due what she had put into BSO retirement. She asked for this statement in writing, which a clerk in the benefits section promised to send her, she says; it never arrived.

Brown applied for unemployment benefits; BSO opposed them, saying that she was not fired but had only refused a job offer. Norat asked for an arbitration hearing (as BSO was required to provide by the union contract), noting the "now you see it, now you don't" job offers, convenient silence from BSO officials, and screwy dating of the termination form Brown hadn't received. It was scheduled for December 10, 2001. Norat suggested that, to show just how irregular Brown's firing had been, she should wear her BSO uniform -- which the department had never requested back.

When she arrived that day, Brown says, she encountered the crowning humiliation. The department's attorney didn't show up, but the BSO representative lighted into Brown, threatening her with immediate arrest for impersonating an officer. She left immediately, in tears. Even after its threats, the department did not ask for her uniform back until January 15, 2002. She didn't get her last paycheck until April.

"I was in shock," Brown says. "I almost had a nervous breakdown. I couldn't believe the way they were treating me -- as if I were some criminal sitting in front of them, and I didn't do anything wrong. I did my job."

Norat sent BSO's lawyer a letter saying that Brown would withdraw from arbitration if she were given the reason for her firing in writing. That explanation was never received, Brown says, but Stopnick now cites this letter, saying that Norat withdrew his demand for arbitration and that BSO's legal department considers the matter closed.

Since then, Brown and her family have looked for help from political figures and more-prominent lawyers, to no avail. Her father thinks the lack of interest from FOPE and even big-name attorneys is due to fear of Broward's powerful sheriff: "It's Jenne -- they're all afraid of him," Don O'Brien says.

In April 2002, Brown had a fourth collapsed disk removed and is now unable to work at all. "I'm in pain all day, every day," she says. She's on medication for depression, and her marriage has suffered. But she's finally given up on trusting her BSO "family." All she wants now is medical retirement, for which permanently disabled deputies are eligible after ten years of employment (Brown served 12 years). Retirement for Brown isn't just a matter of getting back the money she paid into her pension. Retired deputies, like her father, keep their badges as a token of honorable and faithful service.

Veranda Daniel and Patrick Lambert agreed to speak once with New Times about Brown, but BSO grew wary after that interview. When called with further questions about Brown and two other former deputies, Daniel refused to discuss their cases. One of the injured deputies BSO doesn't want to talk about is Sonya Wimberly, another long-time BSO officer who alleges that she was forced out by bureaucratic sleight of hand.

Wimberly, a sergeant with 18 years' service who worked at the Central Intake Unit, the jail's booking desk, says that her injury exacerbated a political situation and resulted in her dismissal.

In 1996, she had a herniated spinal disk removed and returned to full duty. Everything ran smoothly for the next few years. The numerous performance reviews in her personnel file give her good marks; she received two letters of commendation. In March 2001, her old injury flared up again after a jailhouse scuffle, but she shrugged it off and returned to work. Then on April 29, 2001, BSO Deputy Alvin Stewart was arrested and charged with domestic violence. He appeared at Wimberly's desk for processing.

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