Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Ex-deputy, office reach mediated agreement

MONROE COUNTY -- A former Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy who had alleged that he was battered by superior officers and then fired after reporting the matter to state investigators has settled his federal lawsuit against the agency.

Gerald Fletcher Jr. had sued for reinstatement to the Sheriff's Office, back pay dating to his March 7, 2011 firing and an unspecified amount in damages and attorneys fees. But he accepted far less than that in the agreement worked out at a Dec. 4 mediation session.

Under the deal, the Sheriff's Office agreed to rescind the termination and instead accept a retroactive resignation by Fletcher, which will be placed in his employment file. In addition, upon inquiry from a potential employer, the Sheriff's Office won't talk about the termination, and instead will only provide the dates Fletcher worked for the agency and the positions he held.

Nevertheless, the record of the office's internal affairs investigations into Fletcher, as well as the record of his firing, will remain in his personnel file in accordance with the state open records law. Also, Fletcher agreed not to apply for another job with the agency for 20 years.

Asked why his client accepted the modest settlement agreement, attorney Michael Davey referenced the deal's non-disclosure clause.

"We really can't comment on it. It's part of the agreement. It's amicable to both sides," he said.

Fletcher sued the Sheriff's Office in September 2011, alleging that Internal Affairs Capt. Don Hiller struck him in the face after an interview gone bad on Nov. 24, 2010. Along with Lt. Donnie Elomina, a former internal affairs investigator, Hiller then held Fletcher against his will, the suit claimed.

The dispute arose while Hiller and Elomina were questioning Fletcher about his failure to produce a recording for an internal affairs investigation on which he had agreed to assist.

Also named in the suit were then-Sheriff Bob Peryam and then-Undersheriff Rick Ramsay, who was sworn in as sheriff on Tuesday. Fletcher alleged that Peryam and Ramsay violated the federal whistleblower statute by retaliating against him after he brought his complaints against the internal affairs officers to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

After an investigation into the matter, the FDLE decided not to file criminal charges against Hiller or Elomina. Both men consistently maintained their innocence.

Then last May, U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez threw out four civil and policeman's rights counts brought by Fletcher in his lawsuit.

That left three counts -- one each related to the whistleblower act, battery and false imprisonment -- on the table for the settlement signed last month.

Citing the non-disclosure clause, Sheriff's Office attorney Patrick McCullah declined to comment on the deal.

But under its terms, the Sheriff's Office maintained that neither it nor any of its employees wronged Fletcher.

"Defendants specifically disclaims (sic) any liability to plaintiff or any other person, and any alleged violation of any rights of plaintiff, or any law, statute, duty, order, contract or otherwise," the agreement says.

The case was officially dismissed Dec. 14 by Martinez of the United States District Court of South Florida.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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