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Corrections officer scheduled to meet with FDLE agents

The officer is among witnesses authorities seek to interview in the death of inmate Frank Valdes.

A corrections officer suspended for refusing to cooperate with authorities investigating inmate Frank Valdes' death at Florida State Prison may be having second thoughts.

Officer Daren Padgett is scheduled to talk to agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement today, though Corrections Department spokesman C.J. Drake said it is too soon to say whether he is cooperating.

Padgett, 34, was not among the nine officers who forcibly removed Valdes from his cell before his July 17 death, but he is among the witnesses FDLE sought to interview as part of its homicide investigation.

Padgett and another Florida State Prison officer, Phillip E. Maddox, 26, were suspended with pay in late July for refusing to cooperate. Maddox, however, returned to work Saturday after he began cooperating in the probe.

Meanwhile, the nine officers at the center of the investigation remain on leave. Their July 19 suspensions were initially supposed to run until Aug. 7. But the Department of Corrections last week told them to start using their vacation and leave time "until the investigation is completed or a decision is reached to return you to work."

Neither Padgett nor lawyers representing the nine officers could be reached for comment Tuesday.

This isn't the first blemish on Padgett's nine-year corrections career. He was suspended for five days in 1993 for failing to report for duty and in 1996 received an oral reprimand after he was found with a pocketknife after a search.

"Possession of a pocketknife is a serious security violation while on state property, especially inside an institution," wrote Florida State Prison Superintendent Everett Perrin Jr.

In 1995, Padgett was evicted from staff housing at Florida State Prison because he frequently was unreachable for emergency duty and his house was deemed dirty and poorly cared for.

Also in 1995, corrections administrators cited Padgett for conduct unbecoming a public employee and unauthorized absence, after he was convicted of his third DUI in May 1995 and had been absent without authorization since June 13. A report said he was supposed to be doing 10 days county jail time on his days off only.

_ Staff writer Jo Becker contributed to this report.