Orange County to pay for new jail chief to go back to school

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

9 Investigates has learned Orange County's new jail chief is going back to college, and the county is paying for it. 

Orange County is paying almost $2,500 to send Deputy Chief Cornita Riley through basic recruit certification, a county-mandated course.

Earlier this month, Riley was introduced as the incoming head of the Orange County Jail, replacing outgoing Chief Michael Tidwell who resigned following the alleged murder of a state witness by a man who was supposed to be under county home confinement. 

While Tidwell maintained that he was planning to resign prior to the murder, he and his second in command both stepped down after it was revealed that more than 100 home confinement violations went unreported.

The county launched a nationwide search for Tidwell’s replacement, spending $24,000 to review almost 100 candidates, ultimately settling on three names: Cornita Riley, Thomas Rodgers of Charlotte County, and Ramon Rustin from Pennsylvania. 

In its job posting for the position, the county requested that the successful candidate have Florida’ Basic Recruit Certification or obtain it within a year of employment. 

Resumes obtained by Eyewitness News show Thomas Rodgers has his Florida Basic Recruit Certification and Ramon Rustin has the out-of-state equivalent, but the only candidate without the certification was Cornita Riley.

Riley’s resume more than qualifies her for the position, with two decades of experience and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida. However, the county requires the basic recruit certification, which she does not have.

Orange County is now paying for Riley to enroll at Valencia College in order to meet the requirements.  The county points out that the Basic Recruit Certification is mainly geared towards corrections officers who deal with inmates and not administrators, which is what Riley’s position entails.

“Whether someone internally can be successful at Orange County’s jail, I’m not sure," said Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer. "The whole management of that jail needs to be looked at.”

Brummer, a critic of the hire, said while Riley’s credentials qualify her for the job, it is her preexisting connection to the jail and the outgoing leadership that may hinder he ability to overhaul a system that he said is need of charge.

“There are serious issues in the management of the orange county jail,” said Brummer. "This is a part of an overall larger problem that we need to pay attention to.”

The commissioner points to the accidental release of an inmate last Thursday in which the inmate was granted bond and released. 

The Florida Department of Corrections said the paperwork on John Baker clearly stated that he was supposed to be turned back over to DOC custody. However, he was given a bond allowed to leave the jail. 

While Baker was picked up by law enforcement after only a few days out of jail, the incident raised questions about the policies in place at the jail to oversee inmates.

In a separate interview with WFTV’s Kathi Belich on Oct. 25, Riley said of the release, “It's our responsibility and primarily my responsibility to be sure that staff is held accountable. That's what we do. Our job is to protect public safety and after mistakes occur, there (are) also consequences to those mistakes.”