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Attempts to humiliate Pinellas County inmates lead to suspension of two deputies

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri shares crime statistics while attending a recent meeting (4/4/19) of the Sheriff's Advisory Board at the Sheriff's Office headquarters in Largo. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Jul. 13

Two Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies have been suspended 21 work days for intending to "degrade and humiliate" inmates at Pinellas County Jail, according to internal agency reports.

Deputies Willie Jordan Jr. and Kenneth Rowe helped tape "derogatory and demeaning" signs on the backs of inmates ordered to stand with their foreheads against a wall for 11 minutes in early January, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Professional Standards Bureau determined after an investigation. Deputies instructed other inmates to read the signs out loud.

Both Jordan and Rowe told investigators that they did this to "humiliate" and "degrade" the inmates in front of other inmates. They will be suspended 240 hours without pay.

"I started to think, 'Oh crap, I'm losing my mind for a second here because I forgot that I'm not in the Army right now. I'm at the Sheriff's Office,'" Rowe said, according to the July 2 internal report.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the suspensions were harsh and signify the officers were close to being fired. That didn't happen, however, because both were previously well-regarded with spotless records, Gualtieri said.

Rowe told investigators his actions were "inappropriate" while Jordan said his were "totally unacceptable." Rowe and Jordan could not be reached in time for publication.

The suspensions are just the latest from a series of January incidents at the jail, including one that got another deputy, James Moran, fired and charged with simple battery in April. According to an internal inquiry, Moran kicked an inmate after he became tired from doing pushups as punishment for feeding a bird.

Another deputy, Matthew O'Neil, was also investigated for the pushup incident after not intervening or reporting it, according to Gualtieri. He resigned in May. Both O'Neil and Moran were involved in the Jan. 13 incident involving the degrading signs, Gualtieri said. Moran and O'Neil could not be reached.

Gualtieri said no changes are being made to jail policies or procedures, which he described as "solid". He said that the jail has a high level of accountability, noting that there are cameras throughout.

"We have the procedural safeguards in place," Gualtieri said. "You can't address stupid. This is just stupid."

Contact Ben Leonard at bleonard@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8421. Follow @Ben___Leonard.

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