Hillsborough revisiting training for jail workers

The director admits there are deficiencies.

By Abbie VanSickle, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

TAMPA - Hillsborough sheriff's officials are reviewing training procedures in response to the widely publicized case where a deputy dumped a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair.

"I have looked at every aspect of our training," said Maj. Jim Previtera, who leads the agency's training division. "It's been tough to sleep at night because this obviously sends my mind racing 100 miles an hour as far as what I need to do."

Previtera and other sheriff's officials met Wednesday with representatives from the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities and the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities to look for ways to improve. The meeting came days after the release of a videotape that showed detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones dump Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair at the jail.

On Thursday afternoon, Luke Lirot, an attorney for a woman who says a jail guard broke her arm, called on deputies to police each other and demanded better training for jail workers.

"The Sheriff's Office must accept responsibility for its deputies and must eliminate the use of violence as an option to maintain order," Lirot said in a statement.

Sheriff's officials insist the Sterner incident was not a sign of a systemic problem, but three others have come forward in recent days with claims of abuse by jail guards.

-Marcella Pourmoghani, 40, filed a federal suit Feb. 15, claiming detention Deputy Shanna Marsh beat her, causing brain injuries.

-Sheriff's investigators are reviewing another claim of abuse against the same deputy in the Sterner case, this one by inmate Tammy Lynn Mojica, a 34-year-old Wimauma woman who works as a secretary for an aviation consultant.

-Charlana Irving, 28, an exotic dancer and waiter, says detention Deputy Milton Fassett broke her arm in a holding cell in the booking area. Lirot is Irving's attorney.

Room for improvement

A look at Fassett's personnel file gives a picture of a longtime employee with a clean disciplinary record, but it also shows his supervisors believed his skills with inmates needed improvement.

In Fassett's performance review in January 2007, detention Sgt. Jeannette Wallace wrote that Fassett should, "Continue to work on his interpersonal skills when some times dealing with arrestees."

In his performance review in January 2005, detention Sgt. Jose Phillips wrote that of Fassett that, "He is perceived as 'abrasive and demeaning.' This is due in part to the high volume of his voice and the manner in which he uses it."

Months later, he was named employee of the month for creating a computer program that improved the jail booking process.

There's no evaluation so far this year because Fassett had surgery and has been out of work for several months, said Col. David Parrish, who oversees Hillsborough jail operations.

Making changes

Previtera declined to talk specifics about any case except for Sterner's, but he did say that he is reviewing each video, frame by frame, to look for ways to improve training for deputies.

He came to the agency in November 2005 after working, among other roles, as a bodyguard for Vice President Dick Cheney. Previtera's mission was to fix the agency's training program, he said.

In that time, he says, the agency has adopted a more military style and has tightened the standards for recruits.

"This whole thing is extremely frustrating because of the fact that we have made so much progress," he said. "There were a lot of deficiencies in our training, and you can't necessarily correct all those deficiencies in two years."

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or 813-226-3373.