Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee acted quickly earlier this year after a video caught a jail deputy dumping a quadriplegic from his wheelchair. Three deputies lost their jobs, several others were disciplined and the sheriff created an independent review panel, whose findings should restore public confidence in Gee and the jail system.
The review commission did a thorough job of examining what happened to Brian Sterner. But its larger responsibility was to examine the recruitment and training of jail personnel, the culture they work in and procedures to see if any larger, systemic shortcomings were and are at play.
The short answer is, there aren't. The panel's review of use of force and other records showed no bulldog mentality at the jail. Still, it showed some weaknesses in how inmate grievances are handled, and it made sensible recommendations in a range of areas, from how to better train deputies to deal with aggressive inmates to how to make supervisors more accountable. The final report, issued earlier this month, is available on the sheriff's Web site, www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.
Gee made some improvements months ago. The commission praised him for reaching out to serve more Spanish-speaking inmates and for efforts to bring the professional stature of jail personnel more in line with those of patrol deputies. His record, and the unfettered access he gave review board members to records and jail facilities, puts the Sterner incident in a larger and more accurate context. Opening the jail to outside, civilian scrutiny — something Florida sheriffs do not do — shows a sense of public responsibility and faith in his people. It is the best possible outcome to this disgraceful episode.