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Pay stopped for nine corrections employees

Nine state prison employees, including the son of a top statewide law enforcement official, were removed from the public payroll Monday for their involvement in a slugfest at a softball banquet and in a later incident.

One of those disciplined was Bradley Tunnell, the son of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell, whose agency has conducted a criminal investigation of prison operations for more than a year.

Tunnell, 30, had been on leave with pay for the past four months while the prison system investigated his role in the April 1, 2005, brawl at the Florida National Guard armory in Tallahassee. Tunnell was not working, but he was still collecting a $41,000 salary as a correctional services consultant for the prison system's Region I in North Florida.

All nine were placed on unpaid leave, pending the outcome of an internal prison investigation.

Tunnell and two others, Col. Richard Frye and Major Jamie Bowen, had been on leave while the Corrections Department examines the armory fight, which followed a softball tournament. The probe was begun by the prison system's inspector general, Gerald Abdul-Wasi.

The three were put on paid leave by then-Corrections Secretary James Crosby, who was forced to resign Feb. 10 by Gov. Jeb Bush amid state and federal investigations of prison operations.

Crosby's replacement, James McDonough, the former director of the state office of drug control, took Monday's action. The agency declined to provide details of the second incident that contributed to Monday's decision, but it appeared officials learned of it by questioning employees about the softball slugfest.

"Secretary McDonough has looked at the investigation of the armory incident, and he doesn't like what he sees," agency spokesman Robby Cunningham said. "Some of these guys have been on paid leave, and he feels as a guardian of taxpayers' money that this is not the way to spend it. He doesn't like people on the payroll who aren't working."

At the armory, James O'Bryan, husband of a prison major and a former prison employee, was repeatedly punched and kicked after he grabbed a woman as he lost his balance, and both fell to the floor. The armory floor was slippery with beer and vomit at the time.

O'Bryan suffered bruised ribs, a bloody nose and facial cuts, but he refused to press charges.

State prosecutors last month dropped charges against Frye, Bowen and their former boss, Allen Clark, saying there were too many conflicting accounts of what happened to pursue a case.

The others placed on unpaid leave were Georgia Arnold, an assistant warden in the Corrections Department's North Florida Region I; James Barton, a lieutenant at Charlotte Correctional Institution; Barbara Durrance, an executive secretary in Region I; Donnie Mayo, a correctional sergeant at Washington Correctional Institution; Eric McMillon, a sergeant at Apalachee Correctional in Sneads; and Ernest Tharpe, a correctional officer at Liberty Correctional Institution in Blountstown.

Tharpe and Mayo declined to comment. "I've got nothing to say," Mayo said before hanging up the phone. The others could not be reached.

Durrance worked as executive secretary to Clark, the former Region I director. She was the employee O'Bryan grabbed as he fell to the floor at the armory, setting off the April Fool's Day fisticuffs.

Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be contacted at (850) 224-7263 or bousquet@sptimes.com.

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