“I wish you wouldn’t run down my state,” Henry said during our weekly call last Sunday. Henry lives in Orlando and loves his adopted state. He’d just seen my post “Fascist Florida and Free Russia,” and he didn’t like it.
“Most of my best memories have happened in Florida,” he said. Images of him as a kid posing with Goofy at Disney World and boating in Vero Beach come to my mind. I see Henry in his graduation robes at the University of Miami; I have a “U of Miami Dad” cup on my desk, stuffed with pens, pencils, etc.
I, too, have many happy memories of Florida, of family vacations on Captiva Island or at my mother’s home on Longboat Key. The greatest mentor in my life was a Floridian. I will never forget receiving a private tour of Thomas Edison’s home in Fort Myers because of him. My grandmother had a cousin, “Aunt Billie,” who owned a famous orange grove in Fort Lauderdale. She came to visit us once in the ‘50s in a big pink Cadillac. As a ten-year-old I was photographed at a Florida roadside attraction with a big snake draped over my shoulders; I have never been afraid of snakes ever since.
As a family we have much for which to thank Florida. But since I’ve become involved with Derek and Alex King, I’ve been seeing another side of Florida and I don’t like it at all. It’s the ugly side of Florida one sees in its courts, jails and prisons.
It’s a white-trash place populated by guards like:
• A 45-year-old Polk County deputy, Robin Pagoria, arrested in late May for forcing two young female inmates on different occasions to remove their clothes before handcuffing them to a table and administering as many as 62 lashes in what is being called “sadomasochistic spanking.” She videoed the abuse to share with a boyfriend she’d met on a spanking-fetish website.
• Or the six guards and supervisor who allowed 18-year-old inmate Eric Perez to die at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center earlier this month. Guards found him on the floor, vomiting. No one called 911. He was not seen by a nurse because there was none on duty. It is an example of persistent “incompetence, ambivalence and negligence on the part of the administration and the staff” (to borrow the words of a Florida grand jury that investigated a remarkably similar death in 2003).
• Or Okeechobee County sheriff’s sergeant Tommie Joe (T.J.) Brock, who was fired a couple years ago for coercing sex from a 39-year-old female inmate and got off with only 5 years’ probation and the loss of his pension instead of the 30-year prison term he deserved. The Okeechobee County Jail is so oppressive, two inmates (including a teen) have committed suicide there in the last couple years. This is where Alex King was held for a couple months before he was returned to Escambia County to face the traffic charges the state has inflated into a probation violation and has now escalated from a misdemeanor to a felony because Alex has insisted on his right to a trial.
Having witnessed the way the State of Florida has treated Alex since his February accident, I have lost faith in every level of Florida’s justice system to conduct itself in a just, reasonable, and ethical manner. The system, hidden like the subterranean world of Disney World, is indecent.
Despite recognizing that Alex had been complying with the terms of his probation so admirably that she had suggested an early termination of probation, Alex’s probation officer Melissa Cornelius acceded to pressure from higher-ups to file a Violation of Probation before any of the facts of Alex’s February 19th traffic accident had even been investigated. Unaware that Alex had a valid prescription for a pain-killer he took for a cracked or bruised rib sustained in the accident, Cornelius released information to the media that “opiates” had been detected in a urine analysis the day following the crash and created the erroneous public impression that Alex had been “under the influence” at the time of the incident (and that this is why he fled on foot). When I confronted her with the truth and told her Alex’s reaction is more reasonably interpreted as PTSD, she cut me off and said that FDOC was leaving it to the courts to sort out.
To date, this irresponsible decision by Alex’s probation officer has already cost Florida taxpayers approximately $9,500 in incarceration expenses, plus the additional costs and wasted time of public defenders, prosecutors, judges, court clerks, and drivers shuttling Alex the 546 miles between the Okeechobee and Pensacola courts and jails. It has cost us approximately $2,000 so far in phone calls, commissary charges, and other expenses necessary to support Alex through this ordeal. So what is the real total cost of the state’s vendetta against Alex? I wouldn’t be surprised if it has already hit $20,000—and the process hasn’t even reached the half-way point yet.
But can Alex get a fair shake in the courts? The prosecutor—a special prosecutor appointed by the governor—has just elevated the traffic charge from a misdemeanor to a felony only because Alex would not agree to being arm-twisted into accepting a guilty plea which may have sealed his fate on the Violation of Parole charge, which is itself so unfair and absurd. Everyone’s hands are dirtied in this outrageous affair: the governor, attorney general, special prosecutor, department of corrections secretary, probation officer, etc.
Alex had been on the President’s List at his college, for heaven’s sake. He has committed no criminal act. He has not violated the spirit of his probation terms. Alex is an extreme straight-arrow. He only got into a traffic accident on a foggy night, and the state is using this as an excuse to derail a promising young life—and for what?
Retribution and vengeance.
The “Sunshine State” is surely now ruled by a black sun that is a countervailing force to the good people and light that I used to know.
Alex belongs in school, not jail or prison. His experience convinces me that Florida is no place in where I would choose to raise children or to even visit if I didn’t have to. I dislike what Florida is doing to Alex so much because it is crowding out everything about Florida I have cherished for so long.
Henry won’t like me saying this, but the best thing about global warming is that Florida will be one of the first places in America to sink into the sea. God must think it an apt punishment for a place that has morally sunk so low.
Groove of the Day
If you have friends in Florida who care about honest justice and are fed up with heartless politics, please tell them about Alex and consider sending them a license plate to display on their cars:
Readers have also suggested that we write to these people to tell them what we think of Florida justice as it is being applied to Alex King’s case. Please ask your Florida friends to write, too:
Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Special Prosecutor Brandon Young
Assistant Florida State Attorney’s Office
PO Box 787
Bonifay, FL 32425
Secretary Edwin G. Buss
Florida Department of Corrections
501 South Calhoun Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2500
Deborah B. Brown
Circuit Administrator – FDOC
3101 North Davis Highway
Pensacola, FL 32503