Records reveal details of Jacksonville IG probe

Records reveal details of Jacksonville IG probe
Records reveal details of Jacksonville IG probe

An employee whose resignation prompted an investigation by the Jacksonville Office of Inspector General described to city attorneys and Human Rights Commission staff an unsavory, boys’ club-like environment that could jeopardize compliance with law enforcement accreditation standards, according to a series of documents that supported some of the investigators’ conclusions when they wrote a recent report on the office.

The documents, which the Office of General Counsel provided to the Times-Union in a records request, still provide a limited and largely one-sided view of the office overseen by Inspector General Matthew Lascell, who was hired last year and given a mandate to move the office beyond the controversy between the offices that eventually led to the resignation of his predecessor. But they also shed more light on some of the more vague parts of a report by city lawyers and the human rights commission that found the employee who resigned last fall was “treated differently than other employees on the basis of her gender.”

Lascell said in a statement that he would address the content of the report, and the allegations made by the former employee, at the next meeting of the city’s IG Oversight Committee, tentatively scheduled for March 30.

“OIG is following (Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation) standards and will be reaccredited” this summer, he said.

Such accreditation standards, which provide guidelines to ensure that investigations are fair and thorough, are considered critical to maintaining the agency’s credibility with the public and among other investigative agencies. The former employee described situations where her direct supervisor, the director of investigations, was either unaware of these standards or frequently questioned their application. Instead, she accused the office, under Lascell, of “wanting (desiring) to detach the office’s accountability from” those standards, according to a Word document she wrote and provided to city attorneys, summarizing her experiences in the office.

The records the Office of General Counsel provided to the newspaper included the seven-page document, as well as images of text messages between the employee and her colleagues about meetings she had with others. City attorneys also interviewed IG staffers — interviews they said often corroborated the former employee’s allegations — but those interviews were not recorded; the documents presented do not shed light on what was said during these interviews.

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The former employee, who was an IG investigator, had no comment.

The investigation by the IG’s office — which is itself charged with investigating allegations of waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall — began in the fall after the former employee resigned. She wrote an email to Lascell alleging that she had been subjected to “sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying and retaliation” during her time there. Ellen Schmitt, chair of the IG Oversight Committee, has said she was blind-copied on that email and brought it to the full agency to consider how to handle it. The group asked the General Counsel’s office to investigate the allegations, the second time since late 2021 that city attorneys have scrutinized the office’s internal workings.

In a report last month, city attorneys and the Human Rights Commission concluded that a supervisor’s treatment of the former investigator violated city policy prohibiting harassment and discrimination in the workplace. They also concluded that Lascell’s failure to report this behavior to human resources was also a violation of policy.

But the report also said the conduct was not so “severe and pervasive” as to create legal liability for the city. And lawyers also said there was no “conclusive evidence” that the employee faced “retaliation” and “insufficient evidence” of “intentional bullying” — two other allegations the employee made in her letter — although they found corroboration in the records she provided and interviews they conducted together with other IG employees some of her recollections.

Lascell previously told the oversight committee he was unimpressed with the office’s track record in recent years and acknowledged he was looking to “shake things up a bit.”

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He characterized some of the employees who had left after he took over as “people who are remnants of the old and who are not happy with the new direction in terms of … we do things differently.”

“We expect people to come in, we expect people to do their job and do it aggressively. To have an impact and have results,” he said.

To be effective, Lascell told the committee, “you have to ruffle feathers.”

That was not the interpretation shared by the former employee, whose recollections of her time under Lascell echoed his comments to the committee – albeit with a decidedly more negative interpretation of how the business was conducted. “You can’t say I wasn’t involved in a new way, if you told us one thing [sic] and management something else,” she wrote.

She said her supervisor often made inappropriate comments, ranging from observations about her body to sharing opinions on political and social issues, such as “unsolicited comments about Crack and Black people being worse than white people and cocaine,” according to the document she gave the OGC.

She described her supervisor as self-confident – belittling the work of the office’s staff – “but didn’t know how to do the work herself.” That tone, she claimed, sometimes included a tendency to treat women differently, specifically noting an alleged rule her supervisor had that he would not close the door to his office when a woman was inside.

She also said she was reminded of the role she played in the late 2021 investigation of Lisa Green, Lascell’s predecessor, who resigned under pressure after city attorneys concluded she had engaged in a series of inappropriate behavior toward colleagues and had sloppily managed the office. This investigation was the result of several internal whistleblowers – an official legal status that gives the complainant anonymity.

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“Everybody knows who the whistleblowers were,” she quoted an employee loyal to Lascell as saying.

City attorneys wrote in their report that they encountered “several other issues” raised by current and former inspector general employees, including the way public requests are handled, office morale and “management’s discussion with and questioning of its employees regarding this investigation.” The former employee included issues with the way public records were handled in her seven-page write-up, but did not describe any specific episodes, making that part of the report mysterious.

City Attorney General Jason Teal said in an emailed response to a question about those “other issues” that they were things beyond the scope of what the committee had asked lawyers to investigate. The intent, he said, was “generally to inform the committee of the existence of the other areas of concern, but (leave) it up to the committee whether they wanted to pursue the new matters.”

The oversight committee—formally called the Inspector General and Retention Committee—is composed of officials from the mayor’s office, city council, attorney general, public defender, the chief judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit and the citizen chairmen of the ethics and TRUE commissions, a financial advisory group.

Nate Monroe is a metro columnist whose work regularly appears every Thursday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter @NateMonroeTU.

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