Retaliatory firing lawsuit at Public Safety

FSW Public Safety’s front desk on Lee campus where Reginald Mitchell worked as the captain before being fired allegedly for reporting misuse of taxpayer funds and alleged pressure from superiors to falsely certify an officer. Photo by Lianna Hubbard

Ex-captain alleges pressure to illegally certify officer

By Lianna Hubbard

A former FSW Public Safety captain filed a lawsuit against FSW on Dec. 11 for allegedly firing him in retaliation for his alleged refusal to falsely certify an officer for training she allegedly did not complete, and for reporting an alleged misuse of funds, according to court documents.

FSW employed Reginald Mitchell for almost 10 years, from July 2009 to May 2019.

He claims they fired him because he refused to certify former Sgt. Kim Falk for training he claims she did not complete. He also objected to the school’s alleged “gross waste of taxpayer monies” by giving a departing employee an allegedly extravagant severance package.

Mitchell is suing the college under the Florida Public Whistleblowers Act, which protects state employees from being retaliated against when they report illegal activities or misuses of government funds by public agencies.

“I have no comment,” Mitchell said at his new job at Flagler College. “It’s an ongoing process.”

His December complaint alleges he “was told by a superior to fraudulently certify that a subordinate employee was up to date on legally required training when she was not,” in April last year.

At the time of these alleged incidents, Public Safety, now FSW Campus Police Department, did not have a chief.

Mitchell acted as interim chief. Gina Doeble, vice president of administrative services, was his supervisor.

FSWPD officers are certified by the Police Academy, according to FSW’s former chief, Rick Parfitt. Every four years, an officer must update their certification with 40 hours of training.

FSW officers train in firearms, sex crime investigation, crisis intervention, autism awareness, active shooter response, among other areas, according to FSW Chief of Police Jerry Connolly.

Mitchell wrote to his supervisor, refusing to certify Falk, according to the complaint. Doeble declined to comment.

In an August 2019 interview with the FSW Compass, Doeble discussed her role with FSWPD.

“I’m not a law enforcement person but I oversee,” Doeble said. “I’m a civilian commander because I’m not a sworn officer, but I oversee in a civilian capacity that department. I work very closely with the chief.”

Mitchell claims the college retaliated against his refusal to certify Falk by “removing his authority to discipline or properly manage his subordinate employees.”

The complaint also claims that in early July Mitchell objected in writing to the schools’ “gross waste of taxpayer monies when it created a golden parachute for a departing employee.”

The terms of this allegedly extravagant severance package are unknown.

FSW terminated Mitchell’s employment on July 22, a few weeks after the alleged objection, according to Mitchell’s termination letter, which was obtained in a public documents request. Mitchell was put on paid administrative leave from July 23 to October 21 before leaving FSW permanently. Mitchell’s December complaint claims the college said “only that it was ‘going in a different direction.’”

Mitchell began suing FSW five months later. Mitchell now works as a safety and security officer at Flagler College.

In the same August 2019 FSW Compass interview, Doeble commented on Mitchell leaving. She claimed that Mitchell was not terminated but resigned.

Doeble said she did not know why Mitchell left but cited possible “personal reasons.”

“I think he is going to end up retiring. Life circumstances. Just point and time in life, I don’t want to speak for him. He’d been with the college several years, great, nice guy,” Doeble said. “He had been with the college for a long time. He was great with our students.”

When Mitchell was terminated, the department was making changes to its emergency procedures and public relations and hiring a new chief. Doeble cites this as another possible reason for Mitchell “retiring.”

“Just probably all the changes and things coming to be,” Doeble said. “As you want to retire sometimes you’ve got to kind of look at ‘yeah, maybe it’s time for the next generation to come in.’ So yeah he was a good captain in the interim role.”

Falk resigned from her position at FSW on June 10 last year, after eight years of service in FSWPD.

In response to Mitchell’s complaint, FSW claimed that he did not report the alleged retaliatory actions through FSW’s correct channel in their Feb. 6 motion to dismiss Mitchell’s lawsuit. FSW cites making a complaint to the Equity Office as the correct channel.

“[Mitchell] failed to comply with FSW’s established procedures,” FSW said in its Feb. 6 motion to dismiss the former captain’s suit.

Doeble promoted Thijuana Williams to captain over the summer. Jerry Connolly stepped into the role of chief of police in September.

Look for developments in Mitchell’s case at fswcompass.com and in the coming issues of the FSW Compass.

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