Lawsuit Settled Over Florida Inmate Health Care

September 23, 2016

The Florida Department of Corrections and former prison health-care provider Corizon have agreed to pay about $2.1 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that the state agency and the company denied hernia operations to inmates to save money.

Under the settlement, Corizon agreed to pay $1.7 million to current and former inmates. The Department of Corrections agreed to pay $150,000 for legal fees and costs. Corizon would have to pay the rest of the legal fees and costs, which are capped at $385,000.

Florida Justice Institute Executive Director Randall Berg filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of about 2,000 inmates, months before Corizon walked away from a five-year, $1.2 billion contract with the state three years early.

According to a consent order given preliminary approval Thursday by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, the state and Corizon “continue to vigorously deny all allegations contained in the complaint,” but agreed to the settlement “to avoid costly and protracted litigation.”

The three inmates who filed the lawsuit — Tracy Copeland, Archie Green and Amado Parra — will each receive payments of $5,000, plus attorneys’ fees and costs. An estimated 311 current or former inmates who sought treatment for hernias at prisons where Corizon handled health care will receive $2,733.12, and another 1,637 will receive $519.24.

The lawsuit detailed numerous inmates’ years-long struggles to get hernia operations.

The lawsuit alleged that inmates were repeatedly denied consultations with surgeons or were not allowed to have surgery once doctors decided it was necessary.

The consent order approved by Hinkle also will require the corrections agency to change its health-care policy regarding hernias to ensure that prisoners are referred to surgeons for consultations and that the surgeons’ recommendations are carried out.

“This settlement is one step toward the overall improvement of medical care for all incarcerated people in Florida,” Berg said in a prepared statement.

by The News Service of Florida file photos.

No Serious Injuries In Four-Vehicle, One Pedestrian Crash Near Walnut Hill

September 22, 2016

There were no serious injuries in a four-vehicle crash involving a pedestrian early Thursday morning near Walnut Hill.

The accident happened about 5:30 a.m. on Pine Forest Road near Deer Lake Road. Witnesses said hunters in three pickup trucks were parked on the shoulder of the road when the driver of a Ford Expedition left the roadway and rear-ended one truck, pushing the other trucks together. A man standing between the front of one truck and the open tailgate of another truck was struck between the two vehicles, leaving a rounded indention in the tailgate. He refused medical treatment.

The driver of the Expedition was transported to Atmore Community Hospital with minor injuries.

The accident remains under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol. Further details have not been released.

The Walnut Hill Station of Escambia Fire Rescue and Atmore Ambulance also responded to the crash.

Deferred Prosecution For Task Force Members; State Still Contends Century Violated Sunshine Law

September 22, 2016

The four individuals accused of violating Florida’s Sunshine Law won’t be prosecuted, but the State Attorney’s Office remains steadfast that a violation occurred and has the put the Town of Century on notice.

The former members of a Citizens Advisory Task Force — Alfonzie Cottrell, Helen Mincy, Sylvia Godwin, and Robert Mitchell — previously pleaded not guilty to a noncriminal violation of the Florida Government in the Sunshine Law. They were charged by the State Attorney’s Office with having a public meeting that was not properly advertised. On July 26, a meeting was advertised in a legal notice to begin at 4:00 p.m. The meeting was actually held at 2:00 p.m., preventing the public from attending.

If convicted, each defendant faced a maximum fine of $500.

Each defendant has signed a deferred prosecution agreement with the State Attorney’s Office under which charges will be dropped if the defendant has no violation of the law  and resigns their position on the Citizens Advisory Task Force or completes an online training course regarding the Sunshine Law. If the individuals meet the conditions, the charge will be dropped in six months. The State Attorney’s Office said any fees or costs in connection with the case will also be waived.

In letters from defense attorney Kim Skievaski to Century Mayor Freddie McCall and the Century Town Council, each of the four task force members resigned their positions effective September 12. Skievaski was hired by by the town at $300 per hour to represent the four defendants.

At last Monday night’s meeting of the Century Town Council, McCall, reading from an email from town attorney Matt Dannheisser, said “the state will completely dismiss the charges….nor is there any suggestion much less an admission of guilt”.  In a paragraph of the email McCall did not read to his council,  Dannheisser said he would hold off until the agreement was formally entered into court records before the “issuance of any statement demonstrating that there was no violation in the first instance”.  He said he would meet with the prosecutor to understand his reasoning, and “unless he can convince me that he had a good basis for his action, I will issue a letter supporting the town and explaining that there was no violation and that was likely the reason the persecutor essentially dropped the charges.”

After being provided a copy of Dannheisser’s email, Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille wrote a letter to Dannheisser calling his conclusions “incorrect”.

“There was a clear violation of the Sunshine Law by holding a public meeting at a time other than what was advertised in a public notice. The decision to dispose of this case by Deferred Prosecution was not based on the strength of the case but rather on mitigation circumstance. These circumstances, including the age of the individuals, their agreement to resign from the Citizen Advisory Task Force, and the considerable responsibility of the Town of Century in allowing the violation to occur, convinced this office that Deferred Prosecution was appropriate,” Marcille wrote.

“The Office of the State Attorney has always taken a strong position regarding the enforcement of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law and Florida’s Public Records Law. We will continue to take this position in the future,” the assistant state attorney concluded.

A public notice published on and in the weekly Tri-City Ledger newspaper in Flomaton, AL, stated that the Town of Century’s Community Development Block Grant Citizen’s Advisory Task Force (CATF) would meet at Century Town Hall at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 26.

“The public notice for the CATF meeting provided by our firm had a typographical error that listed the time for the meeting as 4:00 p.m. instead of the correct time of 2:00 p.m.,” town consultant Robin Phillips of Jones-Phillips and Associates said, adding that letter sent to the CATF member specified a 2:00 meeting time.

“There was never any intent on the Town’s or on our part to mislead or misinform anyone.  It was an unintentional typographical error, ” Phillips said in a letter to

Marcille said his office will continue to stand behind a letter from State Attorney Bill Eddins to McCall. The letter reads:

“This office has completed its review of allegations that members of the Citizens Advisory Task Force violated the Florida Government in the Sunshine Law by holding a public meeting at a time other than what was advertised in the public  notice. Based upon our review, we have determined that a Sunshine Law violation has occurred. As a result of that decision, we have filed noncriminal infraction charges against the members of that task force. We have also determined that the Town of Century bears considerable responsibility in this matter.

“In this case, public notices were advertised on and in the Tri-City Ledger that the Citizens Advisory Task Force would hold a public meeting on July 26, 2016, at 4:00 p.m. The time listed on the notice was incorrect and should have stated 2:00 p.m. The meeting  was held at 2:00 p.m. and concluded before 4:00 p.m. As a result, this meeting was held outside the Sunshine and without proper notice to the public. It is unclear if the problem with the erroneous time was ever discussed at the meeting. To avoid this issue occurring in the future, we recommend that at the beginning of all public meetings, the advertised notice be clearly reviewed on the record to determine that the meeting has been properly advertised.

“It is also apparent that the members of the Citizens Advisory Task Force were not sufficiently educated as to their responsibilities under the Florida Government in the Sunshine Law. We recommend that the Town of Century immediately establish training programs for all individuals serving on Sunshine boards or committees. We recommend that an outside agency such as the First Amendment Foundation be used for the training.

“Finally, concerns have been raised that the Town of Century has not adequately advertised the  dates and times of public meetings. We recommend that the Town follow the suggestions of the Attorney General’s Office regarding public notices. These recommendations indicated that all meetings, with the exception of emergency or special meetings, should be advertised at least seven days prior to the meeting. Special meetings should be given notice of no less than 24 hours but preferably at least 72 hours notice should be given to the public. Emergency meetings  should be afforded the most appropriate and effective notice under the circumstances. This notice should contain the date, time, and place of the meeting, as well as a copy of the agenda or statement of the general subject matter to be considered.”

Pictured top: CATF members Helen Mincy, Robert Mitchell and Sylvia Godwin during a CATF meeting on Thursday, July 28. Alfonzie Cottrell was not present at the July 28 meeting. Pictured inset and below: The Century Town Hall was locked and the parking lot empty just 4 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, the time of a publicly noticed town task force meeting. photos, click to enlarge.

Cantonment Man Charged With Tom Thumb Robbery

September 22, 2016

A Cantonment man has been arrested for the September 10 armed robbery of a local convenience store.

Jonathan Mark Vito, 44, was charged with robbery with a firearm, a first degree felony. He was booked into the Escambia County Jail with bond set at $50,000.

Vito allegedly entered the Tom Thumb on Highway 29 and Woodbury Court  about 12:20 a.m. on September 10 and brought a pack of beer to the counter, where he told the clerk that he forgot his wallet and that he would be back. Vito returned to the store about 12:40 a.m. and asked for a pack of cigarettes in addition to the beer. Vito then allegedly demanded the clerk open the register, showing a gun in his waistband. He then grabbed the cigarettes and beer and fled the store in an unknown direction.

Vito was later identified from surveillance images and by his clothing, according to an arrest report. The report states he lives with a his mother a short distance from the store, and she told deputies that he was not at a home at the time of the robbery.

In early August,  Sheriff’s investigators said they believe two previous robberies at the store were committed by the same suspect. The store was robbed on July 4 and again on July 29. In both robberies, the suspect walked behind the counter and took cash from the register without producing a weapon. Vito has not been named a suspect in the July robberies.

Pictured above and below: The Tom Thumb at Highway 29 and Woodbury Circle was robbed during the early morning hours on September 10. photo by Kristi Barbour, click to enlarge.

Tate Cheerleaders To Hold Lil’ Aggies Fall Cheer Clinic

September 22, 2016

The Tate High School cheerleaders will be holding a Cheer Clinic for kids age 5-2.

The clinic on October 1 will be held in the new gym from 9:30 until 11:30 a.m.  Participants will be taught proper stretch techniques, sideline cheers and chants, dances and more. Each athlete will receive a t-shirt and take part in a pre-game cheer and the run-through for the game on October 7.

For more information see a Tate Cheerleader, email, or see the Tate Cheerleaders Facebook page. The deadline to register is September 23. Registration forms can be dropped off at Tate High School (given to Jessica King), Ransom Middle School (given to Karen Potter), or given to a Tate Varsity Cheerleader.

Click here to print a registration form.

Lipscomb Elementary Art Teacher Named Best in State

September 22, 2016

Sally Miller of R.C. Lipscomb Elementary School has been named the 2016 Florida Art Education Association’s “Elementary Teacher of the Year”.

She has a degree in art for the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s in education from the University of West Florida.  She has taught at the elementary level for 19 years, and f0r 10 years she taught the art education classes at UWF. Miller has received the Best in Show award for art educators at the Pensacola Museum of Art several times, and she has been awarded first, second and third place awards at the Artel Gallery in Pensacola.

Miller was recognized Tuesday night by the Escambia County School Board and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

Northview Football Names Players Of The Week

September 22, 2016

The Northview Chiefs have named Players of the Week from their game last Friday night against Chipley.

They are:

Luke Ward – Passing: 11-25, 219 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; Rushing: 11 att., 258 yards, 3 TD

Neikel Robinson – 1 tackle, 53 yard interception return for TD
Ohijie Elliott – 10 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks

Seth Killam — 3-4 PAT, Onside kick recovered by Northview

Luke Ward — Hit on #4 on Chipley sideline
Hunter Cofield — Hit on #4 middle of field AND block on #53

Pictured top: An onside kick from Seth Killam. Pictured inset: An interception from Northview’s Neikel Robinson. Pictured below: Ohijie Elliot with a tackle. photos, click to enlarge.

Molino Man Passes Away From Wreck Injuries

September 21, 2016

A Molino man has died from injuries he received in a single vehicle crash near Molino early Saturday morning.

The Florida Highway Patrol said 26-year old Raymond O. Mastrangelo  lost control of his 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier, left the roadway and slammed into a utility pole about 1:10 a.m. Saturday on Highway 95A near Chipper Road. Mastrangelo was transported by ambulance as a “trauma alert” to Sacred Heart Hospital where he later passed away.

Mastrangelo was wearing his seat belt, and the crash was not alcohol related, according to the FHP. photos by Kristi Barbour, click to enlarge.

Escambia Approves $434 Million Budget, Fire Tax Increase

September 21, 2016

The Escambia County Commission voted Tuesday night to approve a $434 million budget, while holding out part of an economic development group’s funding and raising the county tax.

The budget is $22 million higher than last year and up $78 million over 2013.

About one-fourth of the budget will go toward crime — $55.5 million to the Sheriff’s Office and $46.5 million to the county’s corrections department. Public Safety will receive $43 million, $26 million to public works, $25.4 million to human resources, $19.5 million to the landfill and solid waste, $19 million to Neighborhood and Human Services, and $12.7 million to ECAT.

Escambia County’s property tax, or millage rate, is unchanged 6.6165 The county fire  tax increases from $100 to $125 to staff additional fire stations south of Nine Mile Road with paid personnel.

The commission voted to hold back 75 percent of their $550,000 allocation to the economic development group FloridaWest. Commissioner Doug Underhill has expressed concerns about how the group spends public money and the number of jobs that it has created.

FDLE Seeks Statewide Anti-Terrorism Squads

September 21, 2016

Intent on preventing another mass nightclub shooting or a repeat of incidents this past weekend in New York and New Jersey, Florida’s top cop wants to bulk up the state’s anti-terrorism efforts.

As state lawmakers face the prospect of a lean budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Tuesday rolled out a proposed 7 percent increase in spending, a $20 million hike, along with a desire to extend federal terrorism statutes to state law enforcement.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen told Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members that legislative proposals from the agency include a measure to criminalize “certain terrorism-related activities” at the state level.

After the meeting, Swearingen said additional details about changes to state laws would be available as the legislation is drafted and advanced. The annual legislative session starts in March, with the fiscal 2017-2018 budget taking effect July 1.

“These laws will give the state the same authority that currently only federal agencies can pursue,” he said.

About $6 million of the requested funding hike would cover the cost of seven anti-terrorism squads, including an agent-in-charge, 37 specialists and eight analysts.

One of the squads would be assigned to work with federal agencies in Miami, Swearingen said after the presentation.

“I attended funerals with the governor,” Swearingen said in recalling the aftermath of the June mass murder inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. “I went to the morgue. We can never let that happen again here in Florida. … I think these positions will help us to do that.”

The proposal was welcomed by Scott and Cabinet members.

“I am pleased to see you taking elements of anti-terrorism legislation that has historically been left to federal statute and rolling it into state (law),” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. “I’m a little surprised it hadn’t already been done.”

Scott, who abstained from a vote to accept the agency’s budget proposal, will use the input to help craft his own budget proposal for lawmakers to consider in the 2017 session. FDLE’s budget this year totals $293 million.

After the meeting, Scott said the state needs to be ready to spend more to combat terrorism.

“We know what happened in Pulse, where 49 individuals lost their lives and then we had all those people injured,” Scott said. “So we all have to understand that we live in a time where people want to do harm to our country.”

In addition to the funding request, of which about $9.5 million would come from trust funds rather than the general revenue, Swearingen said the agency is reinvigorating the “See something, say something” program. He pointed to this weekend’s bomb-related incidents in New York and New Jersey.

“The incidents in New York and New Jersey, had it not been for someone calling in a suspicious item, those bombs would have gone off during the race, which would have been similar to the Boston Marathon,” Swearingen said. “The same when he (the suspect) was captured. Someone called it in.”

A single suspect has reportedly been arrested in the New Jersey and New York incidents. One of the pipe bombs tied to the suspect went off without causing injuries before runners were to participate in a charity 5K race in Seaside Park, N.J.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

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