By STEVE BOUSQUET and LUCY MORGAN, Times Staff Writers
All have connections to an incident at a prison softball banquet.
TALLAHASSEE - Three Department of Corrections employees were relieved of duty Thursday while the agency investigates a slugfest at a prison softball banquet last April.
The three, who work at Apalachee Correctional Institution west of Tallahassee, were placed on administrative leave with pay.
Apalachee is one of 13 prisons in the agency's northern region, from which former director Allen Clark resigned in August amid a widening probe into allegations of misuse of inmate labor and pilfering of prison property.
The three employees sent home Thursday are Col. Richard Allen Frye, 36; Maj. James Bowen, 32; and Bradley Tunnell, 30.
"Richie" Frye is an Apalachee administrator whose Ford pickup truck recently was seized by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents as part of their investigation. Frye and Bowen both worked under Clark, and both have been active in prison softball.
Before joining the prison system in 1993, Frye was part of a security detail assigned to former President Bush. Frye also supervised Bowen at New River Correctional Institution before both men moved to Apalachee, where they were in Clark's command.
Tunnell, a corrections security expert, is the son of Guy Tunnell, the commissioner of FDLE, the state agency directing a broad investigation of the prison system.
The prison system's decision to suspend the FDLE commissioner's son may signal some of the tension between the agencies.
Corrections Secretary James Crosby, who authorized the actions, reports to Gov. Jeb Bush. Guy Tunnell reports to Bush and the three-member Cabinet.
The three employees got identical letters signed by Clark's successor, Al Solomon: "You are being placed on administrative leave pending investigation of charges which could result in your dismissal. ... You will be notified of your return to work day once the investigation has been concluded."
Prison officials declined to say why they took the action, but all three men were at a softball banquet at the Florida National Guard Armory in Tallahassee the night of April 1, when a fight broke out involving Frye, Bowen, Clark and others.
Investigators said James Edward O'Bryan, a former correctional officer, lost his footing in a puddle of beer and vomit and grabbed the closest person, prison employee Barbara Durrance. The pair fell to the floor and Clark straddled O'Bryan, hitting him in the face, while Frye and Bowen began punching and kicking O'Bryan.
A bleeding O'Bryan refused to press charges. He expressed fear that his wife, Cathi, a prison major, would be fired or transferred to a far-away prison in South Florida.
"Everybody was scared to say anything," O'Bryan told investigators.
Bradley Tunnell was not involved in the fight, but was driving a pickup that pulled up to the armory as friends were leading O'Bryan away. He allegedly used profane language and threatened one of the corrections officers helping O'Bryan to his car.
The incident was described by witnesses in interviews with FDLE investigators.
Crosby said Thursday he has ordered Inspector General Gerald Abdul-Wasi to look into the fracas. Crosby said he took the action because the FDLE completed its work on the armory fight and handed the results to his agency about a week ago.
Crosby emphasized that the action on the three officers is administrative, not disciplinary, similar to a police officer's being placed on administrative leave after a shooting incident.
"Just because you're doing an investigation, you're not guilty of anything yet," Crosby said. "We're just looking into it. It's standard procedure to operate like this. It is not disciplinary action."
Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or 850 224-7263.