MINNEAPOLIS – Demonstrations at three Florida prisons where more than 40 children were shocked with stun guns have led to the dismissal of three employees and the resignation of two others, the Department of Corrections said Friday.
The incidents took place on April 23, national "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day." As part of demonstrations at two prisons, children held hands in a circle, and one was shocked with the stun gun, passing the shock around the circle. At another prison, children were shocked individually.
The children, ranged in age from 5 to 17, felt the shocks either directly or indirectly, but none of the children were seriously hurt or taken to the hospital, the department said.
All of the children had parents who work for the department and some parents gave permission for their children to be shocked, but that did not excuse officers for using the stun guns, Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil said Friday.
"We believe this behavior is inexcusable," McNeil said in a phone interview. "I apologize to the children and parents. None of these kids should have been exposed to these devices."
McNeil said he had never been shocked by one of the devices but that the circle demonstration is something commonly done in training classes for correctional officers.
Officials are also investigating a demonstration of tear gas at Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont. Children there were accidentally exposed to the gas when the wind shifted, but none required medical care. That investigation is not yet complete.
The stun gun demonstrations happened at one prison southwest of Tallahassee and two others in the southern part of the state. Unlike a Taser, which shoots a probe that delivers a shock, the devices used at the prisons were stun guns, which work when touched to a person's skin and affect a smaller area of the body. The result is two temporary marks that look like mosquito bites but may later turn into bruises about the width of a pencil eraser.
Stun guns are not routinely carried by correctional officers unless they are escorting inmates to court or to the hospital. The devices have not had to be used on any of the Department of Corrections' more than 100,000 prisoners this year, the department said.
The Department says 55 of its prisons, just under half, participated in the national day when children are invited to their parents' workplaces. Many of the facilities had pancake breakfasts, speakers, canine demonstrations and tours of the outside of prisons. Some facilities had trainers demonstrate stun guns on themselves, not a violation of the department's policy.
The circle stun gun demonstrations happened at Indian River Correctional Institution in Vero Beach and Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown. Seven other children were shocked directly at Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle.
The three fired employees were involved in shocking the children. They are Lt. Russell Bourgault and Sgt. Walter Schmidt, both of whom had approximately 14 years with the department, and Sgt. Charmaine Davis, who was hired in 2003. They are not going to be charged with any crime, McNeil said. Phone numbers of the officers were not immediately available and they could not be reached for comment.
The two who resigned were from the Vero Beach prison were Lt. P.J. Weisner, an 11-year veteran, and Maj. Seth Adams, a 19-year-veteran. Another 16 employees, ranging from correctional officers to wardens will be disciplined. Punishments include demotions and suspensions. Others will get a letter in their file that will affect their evaluations and future promotion. None of the wardens knew the devices would be used with children, McNeil said.
The incidents were also reported to the Department of Children and Families, but it was not clear if the department would take any action as a result.