April 15, 2024

Unwelcome Competence

Cynthia Barnett | 7/1/2009

 Former Corrections Secretary James Crosby — now serving time in prison — asked inspector Fred Schuknecht to resign after an investigation found misconduct by a protégé of Crosby.
When James Crosby was named secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections in 2003, he held a meeting with Fred Schuknecht, who’d served as the prison agency’s inspector general for eight years.

Schuknecht prepared for the meeting by making a list of his office’s accomplishments. With the blessing of previous agency heads, he had sought to bring a law enforcement focus to the inspector’s office. He had successfully lobbied the Legislature to allow his staff to get law enforcement certification, for example. He had also created drug-dog teams to sniff out contraband at prisons around Florida.

At their meeting, Crosby told Schuknecht he wouldn’t be keeping him as inspector general. The programs Schuknecht had listed as successes in the inspector general’s office were exactly what bothered Crosby. “He kept saying that we don’t need cops in prisons,” Schuknecht says.

Among the approximately 2,000 investigations that Schuknecht had overseen each year of his tenure, Crosby referred to only one during the meeting. He told Schuknecht that a 4-year-old investigation at New River Correctional Institution involving A.C. Clark, a protégé of Crosby, had gone “way too far.” The investigation had found, among other things, that Clark misused an employee fund and improperly used inmate labor to build a “Gator room” at his state-owned quarters.

Today, Crosby and Clark are both serving time in federal prison for a kickback scheme that came to light two years later — too late to save Schuknecht’s nearly 30-year career with the Department of Corrections.

Officials in the governor’s office and DOC say Crosby’s was an extreme case. But Schuknecht and others say Florida’s inspectors general should have protection — from both overt retaliation and subtle pressure. “What happened to me shouldn’t have happened,” Schuknecht says. “Sufficient protections don’t exist to keep it from happening to someone else.”

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