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Nurse, inmate too close, jail says
She is arrested, accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a Falkenburg Road prisoner.
By REBECCA CATALANELLO, Times Staff Writer
Published December 14, 2007
Deputies say Lisa Ann Mendez shared food with and wrote letters to James Lee Johnson.
James Lee Johnson, 37, is serving time for battery
TAMPA - Lisa Ann Mendez started her day as a jail nurse and ended it as an inmate.
Three hours after the 35-year-old clocked in at Falkenburg Road Jail on Thursday, deputies confronted her, charged her and booked her.
"It was very, very degrading," she said.
Deputies say Mendez had an inappropriate relationship with an inmate:sharingfood, writing romantic letters, giving him money, acceptingphone calls.
"The only thing I am guilty of is sharing the food I brought in for lunch," Mendez said in an interview Thursday night.
Married, with three children, she was hired this summer to work at the jail as a contract nurse with Armor Correctional Health Services.
As a jail trusty, James Lee Johnson, 37, assisted the nursing staff, Mendez said, helpingload patients into wheelchairs, bathe inmates and other heavy lifting.
"I thought he was a decent person," Mendez said. "I played right into the game."
She said she knew nothing of Johnson's charges. Records showhe is serving time for battery, but his arrests date to 1989, including charges of cocaine possession, robbery, and a lewd and lascivious offense against a child.
"I don't see them as inmates," she said. "I see them as patients."
She said that on two occasions, she gave Johnson her leftover lunch rather than throw it away.
But Debbie Carter, the sheriff's spokeswoman, said inmates complained that Mendez openly shared meals with him over the course of a relationship that deputies say started in July.
And, Carter said, Mendez gave him her cell phone number, deposited money into his canteen fund and wrote him letters containing "romantic gestures."
Johnson tried to reach Mendez more than 500 times on her cell phone, Carter said.
Mendez said she doesn't know how Johnson got her phone number, and she didn't answer his calls. The letters are unsigned and not from her, she said.
Mendez and Johnson are both charged with introduction of contraband into a detention facility for sharing her food.
Carter said jail employees are barred from having personal relationships with inmates, and bringing anything from outside to an inmate is a felony.
Amy Baena, a spokeswoman with Armor, said Mendez lost her security clearance, but the company was still investigating whether Mendez would be fired.
Armor employees undergo training by the company and the Sheriff's Office, advising them not to have personal relations with inmates, she said. Employees must even disclose any pre-existing inmate relationships.
Mendez left jail after posting $2,000 bail. It is her first arrest, and she wants to clear her name. She fears she will not only lose her job, but also her license.
"This all stems from me trying to be nice," she said. "I'm caring and compassionate." As a nurse, she said, she's trained to be.