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Palm Coast Wednesday, Sep. 20, 2017 3 years ago

In complaint addressed to County Commission, NAACP charges sheriff with racial discrimination

The NAACP stated that the firing of a victim's advocate was racially motivated. The Sheriff's Office countered that the employee did not satisfactorily complete a probationary period.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The Flagler County branch of the NAACP has charged the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Rick Staly with racial discrimination, stating in a letter of complaint addressed to the County Commission that the agency’s firing of a black employee was racially motivated.

Staly, the Sept. 19 letter states, “is engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful employment discrimination and disparaging treatment against a group of people for their race and color.”

Sheriff’s Office officials countered that the employee, a victim’s advocate named Jennifer Harris, was a new hire still in her one-year probationary period who did not satisfactorily complete probation, and that the sheriff’s hiring of black recruits and employees is not significantly out of line with local demographics.

“I want to hire a diverse workforce, and I stand on my record since January that I have,” Staly said. “I think the data shows very well that I’m doing my best to mirror this community. I can’t fix the past ills overnight that may have occurred in prior administrations. What I do intend to do, though, is hire quality people and qualified people, and that’s why you have a probationary period. And the person that they are reflecting to did not satisfactorily pass a probationary period.”

The NAACP letter was cc’d to Staly, Gov. Rick Scott and other officials.

It states that Harris was “gratuitously terminated” while on probation and was “not charged with any form of misconduct, incompetence, discipline, nor the subject of any form of oral or written reprimand pursuant to the general progressive discipline guidelines.” 

However, an internal Sheriff's Office memorandum dated June 22, 2017 from Investigative Services Division Cpl. Mark Moy to Undersheriff Jack Bisland stated that Moy had been informed by Harris' supervisor, Senior Victim Advocate Kathy Vazquez, that Harris "was not meeting her probationary requirements and has continued to not follow protocol."

The memorandum outlined several incidents in which Harris allegedly breached protocol. 

In one case, it stated, she filed for 40 hours of vacation leave when it had already been explained to her that, as a new hire, she had not yet accrued any; soon after it was clarified with her again, she sent a calendar request to another supervisor requesting a paid day off.

In another instance, according to the memorandum, when she was due to travel for an upcoming training session, she asked about compensation for mileage and was told she would not be compensated because she would be using an agency vehicle and would be issued an agency gas card. She was given the gas card, but then asked a different supervisor about getting reimbursed for mileage.

In another case, she asked about getting compensatory time to attend a meeting she'd been asked to attend in Volusia County. She was told she would not, because the meeting fell during her normal work hours. She then added an extra 50 minutes to her timesheet and, when asked about it, said it was for drive time. She was told that the Sheriff's Office did not compensate for drive time in such cases. Her supervisors later learned that she had in fact left work 30 minutes early that day to compensate for drive time.

In another instance, she changed her training schedule work hours without approval, and in other cases took long lunches exceeding the 30-minute time allotted in order to pick up her daughter from school, and in one instance attended a union meeting while on duty approximately 15 minutes after a supervisor told her that she could not attend while on duty and would have to request time off in order to attend. 

"Based on my observations, Victim Advocate Harris continues to show deficiency when it comes to following protocol for Chain of Command," Moy's memorandum states. "Victim Advocate Harris fails to follow direction and chooses to make her own decisions without conferring with her Supervisors. When Victim Advocate Harris has been instructed on following protocol, she claims to fully understand; however, Victim Advocate Harris makes excuses when it is discovered that protocols were not followed."

Harris, who'd been hired on April 19, 2017, was fired on June 23 — a day after Moy's memorandum was sent.

On July 3, Harris filed a "memorandum for name clearing," characterizing many of the instances cited in Moy's memorandum as misunderstandings.

When requesting time off, she wrote, she'd written "VL" — for "vacation leave" — in the calendar request subject line because she'd been "uncertain what to put in the subject line," and, when corrected, changed it to "leave without pay."

Her requests about mileage reimbursement for a training session concerned reimbursement not for her from the Sheriff's Office, but for the Sheriff's Office from Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds, she wrote.

The 50 minutes of additional time on the timesheet had been an error, and her leaving early that day had been approved by a supervisor, she wrote.

She wrote that she had not been informed ahead of the union meeting that she could not attend while on duty, and that a superior who'd spoken with her about long lunch breaks had also said "that she was not worried about 5 minutes over."

The NAACP letter cites hiring and promotion numbers from the Sheriff’s Office as evidence of racial discrimination.

Of the Sheriffs Office’s 106 sworn deputies, the letter states, there are only five black deputies (or 4.72% of the 106) on road patrol. (The 106 number cited appears to include deputy bailiffs.) Of 48 detention deputies, the letter adds, 10 (or 20.83%) are black; of 77 non-sworn Sheriff’s Office personnel, seven (or 9.09%) are black. No black deputies were among the 19 promoted in May.

According to 2016 census data, 11% of Flagler County residents are black.

Data provided to the Observer by the Sheriff's Office showed that black employees are somewhat underrepresented at the Sheriff's Office relative to the number of black residents in the local population. Of the 276 total Sheriff's Office personnel, 22 — or 7.97% — are black; of 96 employees with the title "deputy," seven are black (7.29%); of 35 detention deputies, seven (20%) are black, and of the Sheriff's Office's 12 detention deputy commanders, corporals and sergeants, two (or 16.67%) are black.

But those numbers include employees hired before Staly took office in January, and Staly defended his own record of hiring minorities.

“According to the census, the community is 84.1% white; since I became sheriff, my hirings have been 78.1% white,” he said. “Black or African-American are 11% of our community; I’ve hired 9.4%. Can we do a little better? Sure. But I think I’m doing pretty good.”

Staly said he's hired 32 people. Of those, three identified as black, three as Hispanic and one as multiracial. As to promotions, Staly said, state law and union regulations dramatically restrict his own and Sheriff's Office supervisors' discretion, mandating a regulated testing process.

The NAACP's letter was signed by NAACP Flagler County Branch President Linda Matthews and by Chairman of Legal Redress Eric Josey.

Harris had listed Matthews as a reference on her application for the Sheriff's Office position, noting Matthews as a "family friend" she'd known for seven years.

Josey had spent less than two months as a Flagler County Sheriff's Office deputy in 2016 under Sheriff Jim Manfre, for whom he’d campaigned, before resigning.


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