Corrections chief fires five more at prison

Published March 31, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Five more officials from the Hendry Correctional Institution at Immokalee near the Everglades were fired Friday and three more were placed on paid leave, Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough said.

The dismissals and suspensions followed a party at the home of Col. William Avant, who was in charge of security before being fired along with seven others last week for their roles in the March 14 beating of an inmate.

Avant held a party at his home on the prison grounds March 21, just hours after being fired. About 15 prison staff members were at the party and about 9:15 p.m. at least three telephone calls were made to the prison threatening a fellow guard, Sgt. Bruce Sooy, who initially reported the prisoner abuse.

"It was a death threat, apparently," McDonough said. "But that will be for the state attorney to decide."

State Attorney Steve Russell has received reports from the Corrections Department investigation along with local police who aided the night of the ruckus on the prison grounds.

McDonough, after learning of the threats at roughly midnight, locked down the prison during the early morning hours of March 22 and immediately ordered in reinforcements to ensure order at the prison.

"The firings, for many of them, is the least of their concerns now," McDonough said.

"He (Avant) goes back to his quarters on institutional grounds, but instead of doing the decent thing, like clearing out his quarters and quietly fade away, he throws a party," McDonough said Friday. "And who does he invite? A number of the individuals fired already for the apparent abuse of an inmate."

James Brown, William Diaz, Kevin Filipowicz, Tina Morgan and Stephen Whitney were the officers dismissed Friday. It was not immediately known if any of them had attorneys.

Meanwhile, the former warden, Carol Starling, and her assistant, James Tridico, who were suspended, resigned, and two other guards were reassigned Friday.

Starling and Tridico were removed from their posts after a prisoner, Charles Gundlah, was allegedly beaten and choked by four guards. The guards were fired two days later.

Gundlah is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.