• Report illustrates issues at Civil Commitment Center

    By: ANDREA PRAEGITZER, Sun Correspondent, Charlotte Sun

    Updated:

    Charlotte, Florida - ARCADIA -- Convicted sex offenders regularly exchanged child pornography in return for haircuts at the Florida Civil Commitment Center and have easy access to cigarettes and marijuana, according to a law enforcement report and detainees.

    Meanwhile, Correct Care, the private company operating under a $265 million contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families to run the center, was unable to fill numerous vacant positions -- as required by its contract.

    The issue of illegal child pornography being smuggled into the prison and the failure to fill security jobs raises questions about the Florida Civil Commitment Center’s effectiveness. And, at the same time, a William Mitchell Law Review "Study of the Efficacy of the Sexually Violent Predator Act," written by Daniel Montaldi, questions if the commitment center is an effective tool against sexual offenders.

    "(The) FCCC is a secure residential treatment facility. As such, providing a safe and secure treatment environment is a chief concern," Correct Care spokesman Jim Cheney said. "When any contraband, including illegal contraband, is discovered, immediate action is taken."

    DCF and Correct Care have zero tolerance for this activity and immediately report illegal possession of pornographic material to local law enforcement, DCF spokeswoman Michelle Glady said.

    Local detainee’s account

    Detainee Gary Perrot is among those locked up at the FCCC -- in the town of Arcadia, -where he tried unsuccessfully to be a City Council member in 1981. "I lost by 200 votes," he said in a phone interview from the FCCC.

    The Pinellas County criminal case against Perrot listed charges including tampering with a witness, kidnapping and sexual battery.

    Perrot did time in prison and was immediately shuffled off to the commitment center. He has been at the FCCC for three years, and is awaiting his commitment hearing.

    "I am a 58-year-old, single white male. I am a former reporter, former news director of a number of radio stations, and former newspaper columnist. In 1996 I went to prison with four life sentences for the alleged sexual battery of my then-girlfriend, after she discovered I had an affair on her," Perrot claims.

    On a call from the FCCC, Perrot deflects a question about his crime and instead said his detention there costs taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per year and is wasteful.

    The past three years at the FCCC have included little treatment. Meanwhile, marijuana, tobacco and child pornography are getting into the facility -- smuggled in by guards, Perrot believes.

    Cheney, however, said the company does strict background checks on guards and any "failing to meet (our) expectations" are disciplined accordingly, up to and including termination and/or criminal prosecution.

    Another insider’s perspective

    Shannon Michael, a 46-year-old detainee at the FCCC, agrees with Perrot that contraband is easily obtained.

    "I know who smokes reefer; I know who smokes cigs," said Michael, who first arrived in 2012. He was committed for an indefinite amount of time two years later following his prison sentence for attempted sexual battery and false imprisonment crimes in 2003 out of Citrus County.

    "Everybody knows everybody here," Michael said.

    Numerous cameras capture most of what goes on inside the facility, according to Michael. Despite those security measures, though, Michael admits he has bought contraband cigarettes -- or what he calls "rip" -- and sold them to other detainees at the FCCC.

    "It’s how I make my canteen money," Michael said.

    He and others have smoked outside in the yard monitored by staff and security cameras, he said.

    Michael says he wouldn’t be surprised or fault staff if they have ever brought in cigarettes or marijuana, and adds it was known by staff and other detainees that he was selling cigarettes, but he was never disciplined for it.

    "You can make a week’s paycheck on one carry-in," Michael said.

    Asked if he wants to be released, Michael said "if I was going home, I would be ecstatic," but then his tone dropped.

    "There could be problems," he said, listing off no car, no job, no money, and shame.

    Michael said he doesn’t want to feel uncomfortable about his past incarceration around his family, or make them feel uncomfortable. "Oh, your dad’s a sexual predator," said Michael, mockingly.

    He said although treatment is available, he doesn’t participate -- even though successful completion of the program, which can take potentially seven or more years, bodes well for potential release.

    "You don’t have to go to treatment to do the right thing," Michael said. "I didn’t get too much out of it."

    Michael said he takes responsibility for his attempted sexual battery of a woman who ultimately pulled a knife on him, ending the ordeal. He said he feels sorry for his actions, but claims he doesn’t feel he poses a threat to society if let free.

    "It was wrong," he said. "I was drinking, pills, I was a little out of control, but it was all my fault."

    More investigation needed?

    Perrot, meanwhile, understands some people may not be sympathetic to him, or others housed in the FCCC, but says what is going on there should be told "from the inside."

    Tours of the FCCC are not provided to media or the public, but the public can visit detainees in the meeting area of the facility, according to DCF.

    "Civil commitment is nothing more than a scam on Florida taxpayers designed to make a select few rich," Perrot said.

    "The only reason sex offenders are committed to (the) FCCC is because the public has been scared witless into believing that sex offenders pose some outrageously large risk of reoffending, thanks to sensationalizing by the media and asinine comments made by politicians who want to get elected or re-elected to office," he said.

    Perrot claimed Correct Care staff at the FCCC provides detainees with marijuana, tobacco and bootleg movies.

    There have been three other incidents involving child pornography that DCF has heard about since 2006, according to DCF’s Glady.

    In one case, a man detained at the FCCC was sent back to prison for 100 years, after child porn was found in his possession.

    "Mr. (Keith) Flar admitted he had collected this material over the course of the past four years while being committed at this center," the February 2016 DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office incident report said.

    Flar told authorities he knew he had adult pornography but was unaware of child pornography.

    "Mr. Flar stated he was a barber and would trade pornographic material in lieu of payment for his services," the report reads.

    Grains of salt

    Glady said detainees’ allegations are nothing new.

    "This is a highly manipulative population," she said. "Individuals committed to the FCCC are there because they are deemed, by a team of medical professionals and Florida courts, as being sexually violent. It’s important to keep that in mind when interviewing residents."

    The FCCC, like many state prisons, has had its problems with staff turnover.

    Contract oversight reports from DCF show noncompliance related to vacant positions in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

    In 2014--2015 reports provided by DCF, more than 20 treatment/mental health positions were vacant in December, January and February. Dozens of security officer positions also were vacant in December 2014 and January 2015.

    The vacancies prompted corrective action plans in 2014--2015, just as they had the year before. A corrective action plan from July 2015 provided by DCF notes "a staff validation tool was created to document filled FTEs (positions), vacant FTEs and FTEs filled through the use of overtime by department on a monthly basis."

    The former administrator of the Sexually Violent Predator Program, Daniel Montaldi, said in his 2015 report that "commitment probably has achieved the indefinite confinement for most of the very dangerous sex offenders who were referred for commitment consideration. Their potential victims were spared. This is an extremely good thing, wherever one stands with respect to commitment laws."

    A total of 633 men in Florida were committed and detained through the end of October 2015, including 93 who, like Perrot, were detained but not yet committed.

    "Even if policymakers tolerate numerous unnecessary commitments for every necessary one (until the constitutional challenge sure to come), a preliminary analysis of commitment in Florida gives no support for the belief that sex -offender-specific commitment has been cost-effective. There has been no measurable impact on statewide sexual crime rates," Montaldi wrote.

    Next Up: