Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Dead Messenger: "You do not falsely lock up people and call yourself human."

I'm not sure why there's been no MSM coverage, but whistleblower Sheri Simonelli at the Bexar County adult probation department was fired last Friday after going public with evidence that a private urinalysis lab had changed its protocols in a way that encouraged "false positives" that were then used for detention decisions.

I've come to know Sheri a little through the blog, and from all appearances Bexar CSCD is losing a competent and dedicated employee: Good luck, Sheri. I'm sorry it came to this.

This appears to be the denouement of a longstanding feud between probation director Bill Fitzgerald and employees who wanted to unionize the department. (Sheri is/was the union local head and the lead defendant in a federal lawsuit (pdf) challenging Fitzgerald.) Fitzgerald reacted to unionization proposals by trying to force every employee to submit to "retention interviews," and even trying to out anonymous blog commenters, both ham-handed strategies from which he later backed down.

Payback, though, can be a bitch. Said Simonneli in an email to Grits: "I'm still proud of what I did. You do not falsely lock up people and call yourself human."

Simonelli's firing doesn't end the saga: What will Bexar judges (who govern the probation department as a board) do about shoddy forensic science used by the probation department. They've been silent so far, but the whistleblower's departure drops the matter squarely into their lap. Will Fitzgerald and Co. continue to use the vendor following flawed UA procedures? Probably, until somebody sues over it. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a wrongful termination lawsuit develop. Meanwhile, this latest broadside on the newly formed union can only worsen already sour employee relations at the Bexar adult probation department.

In Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Master Sun wrote that to be victorious, leaders must achieve "The Way," which he defined as "inducing the people to have the same aims as the leadership." By that standard, the Bexar County probation chief has lost his "Way." As near as I can tell from comments on Grits and private emails I've received, Bexar probation officers are as worried, frustrated and on edge as were TYC employees last year at the height of then-Executive Director Dimitria Pope's unhappy and ill-fated reign.

There comes a point when the management utterly loses the respect and fealty of those working under them, when they lose their "Way," and if Fitzgerald hadn't reached that point before last Friday, he's certainly done so now.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

"You do not falsely lock up people and call yourself human."

Nope. You call yourself "Director"!

Don said...

Well, I would hope there's a wrongful termination lawsuit. This looks like out and out payback, and it is against the law. We have too many people in the system who are victims of this junk science. It's much easier to use it to revoke than to convict in the first place. Giant departments like Bexar should know they are being watched, but the small ones get by with all kinds of crap. Of all the 15 or so rural probation departments I worked with directly and indirectly, I can only name a couple that use proper protocol on the UA's. They almost never get the confirmations done, because of the expense. I feel some of Sheri's pain. I had a couple of Probation Chiefs try to get me fired once because I called their hand on their sloppy procedures. I sent a couple of probationers to get a hair analysis after they had a positive UA at probation, and they came back clean. Made everybody mad. Good. And good for Sheri for calling them on their crap. I hope she gets a better job AND some money.

kbp said...

Depending on what substance showed positive in the questionable tests, re-testing or hair tests may not prove those tests were inaccurate.

What would be of interest is all the data from the tests, including the programs used to run the test results (the parameters of readings used). That should be on record in the computers and/or secondary backup systems used.

Of course that computer problem fixed may have eliminated some data, but if it was only the data of the tests in question, that in itself is admissible evidence.

I'm not real up on this story, but she should have an attorney notify her former employer AND the lab to save all such data in the anticipation of a civil complaint.

Anonymous said...

"I hope she gets a better job AND some money."

Justice would be if they fired Fitzgerald and gave her his job! Plus some money.

Don said...

To kpb: Fine. The point here is not to argue the ins and outs and scientfic intriciacies of drug testing, it is to question procedure and protocol. The hair test may not prove the tests were inaccurate, but it sure didn't do anything for the case that they WERE accurate, did it? It should be incumbent upon the system to demonstrate that their tests ARE accurate, not the other way around. It is junk science as practiced in many, if not most, probation departments. UA testing is inaccurate at best. That is, if all protocol and procedure are done perfectly. Take away anything, and it becomes junk. Period. The point of the post and the thread, is that this lady exposed shoddy practice, and is concerned that innocent people are in jail because of it. Then she was retaliated against because she tried to do the right thing. Now maybe you are more up on the story.

Anonymous said...

The false gods and little generals who operate without accountability as probation directors in Texas-thanks to the judges-could care less about finding Sun Tzu's "Way" to induce the people to adopt the same aims as leadership. The little generals are more concerned about keeping critics out of their "way." Silencing the messengers allows them to operate with impunity and totalitarian authority. Seig Heil to the Fuhrer Fitzgerald!

kbp said...

Sorry Don!

My point was not to prove anyone or any comments inaccurate.

I took your comment on the hair testing to mean that you advised others to do it immediately following a negative result, which I'd agree with 100%.

My comment on hair testing related ONLY to "prove those tests were inaccurate" so long afterwards, with the "those" meaning the tests Sheri questioned.

What initiated my comment was the linked article, in which the lab representative stated the later testing would NOT work, to which I added the "hair" topic after reading your comment, because that lab spokesman can be correct (depending on WHAT they are testing for).

The point of my comment in it's entirety was not really to debate testing, but to show retesting will most likely not be as valuable as the data from the original testing if there was a civil complaint needing proof of inaccurate testing.

My lack of knowledge on the topic includes whether the possibly inaccurate results came from problems with "protocol and procedure" or if the program parameters used in the computers was screwed up or had been tweaked on purpose to get more POSITIVES.

Anonymous said...

I read this story last week and wondered what happened... Even worse than Sheri's unfair termination, how many people are sitting in a cell right now becuase their probation was revoked on a dirty UA?? As if TDCJ is not overcrowded enough. AND, how do they plan on rectifiying this problem??

Anonymous said...

I find it extremely telling that shortly after Sherri blew the whistle on Bill's inaction with Treatment Associates UA lab practices, the owner of TA fired all of his employees and got a new vender to supply him his testing instruments.

Don said...

To kpb: Ok. But I'm still not making my point that it is not really about drug tests, accuracy or inaccuracy, pros and cons, etc. in this case as it as about the retaliation in a whistle blowing case.
You didn't necessarily sidetrack it into a drug testing debate. And I helped do that by even mentioning my "hair" clients. I really just wanted to voice my concern about the retaliation.

Anonymous said...

What did this DICTATOR do when he was the boss of booming YAVAPAI County Arizona? I'll bet someone out there knows whether he conducted himself in the same manner? Could there have been wrongful terminations there?
Anyone know???????????????

Anonymous said...

Sherri was terminated for insubordination(?) I'LL BET NOT ONE UNION officer changed their protocol in reference to her NOTIFYING UNION members of probable false positive UA's. I hear now that the lab fired all their employees for "SLOPPY" work according to the owner. They are also using a different vendors test. All this evidence and Sherri was fired?
Pretty amazing that this "director" thinks all his officers are STUPID enough to file violation reports on one positive UA.
I would suggest that the Bexar County probation officers join that UNION fast! And before the chief and administration go after you and you have NO recourse except to try and find an attorney willing to represent you for FREE! You know that won't happen.

Anonymous said...

Check out Elizabeth Allen's article in the Express-news. I think she shows how bad that lab was! What a travesty that a probation officer trying to protect the probationers civil rights gets FIRED! It should have been that CHIEF, are you listening Judges? Why aren't the attornies up in arms? They all want the probation officers to be there for their clients, so stand up for her!

Anonymous said...

Time for Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez to set a court date for the previous retaliation lawsuit filed on behalf of probation officers by Attorney Davis VanOs. Well, the retaliation continues and NO ONE seems to care!

Anonymous said...

Your articles concerning Sherri Simonelli do not mention important information concerning her termination. It seems Sherri has neglected to provide some facts of her termination. Sherri was also fired due to an e-mail she sent to union members.

In the e-mail she encourages union members to not send defendants for a urinalysis test. To someone not familiar with probation work this may not seem significant. However, a probation officer immediately recognizes this as willfully disobeying the order of a judge. A probation officer can't impose or remove conditions of a defendant'd probation. This sort of action can get an officer charged with a criminal offense. One union member was so cocerned about this e-mail, the union member took the e-mail to a supervisor. If this information concerning the e-mail is not correct, I challenge Sherri to entirely quote the e-mail to Grits for publication.

Sherri may choose to defend the e-mail as free speech on her own time and her own computer. Free speech is her also her defense for the news story concerning the urinalysis tests. Free speech is important but has limits and consequences. If Chief Fitzgerald publicly criticized his boses, the judges, he would no doubt be fired. If one employee publicly demanded the resignation of another officer there would not doubt be disciplinary action.

The arguement she she has been fired due to being a whistle blower is also wrong. Sherri went way beyond just reporting a possible law violation.

kbp said...

I went back and read as much as I could find, including the pdf. of the 1983 complaint.

It is never real clear what the PO's wanted that a union would have helped them get. It seems the bathrooms were dirty, security was lacking, and spirits in the office were at rock bottom.

It sure escalated quickly, which is a sign of piss poor management.

In hindsight, from the little I know, the expense of re-applying for jobs and legal fees to haggle should have been applied to creating a better working atmosphere.

What a mess!

Anonymous said...

The email sent out would be protected speech by the first amendment. She spoke as president of the association to warn other members. - So lets see- If the Firefighters Association President spoke out to its members(via email) about not doing something the president had been told would make each firefighter at risk for lawsuit or be a criminal act then he would be wrong???

The way it seems is this president went way above and beyond to protect the members and keep them safe and was helping the probationers as much as the members.

This needed to come out and I think MSM does need to pick this up.

How many innocent people did time? Who cares how the officer said it or got the info out. I'm just glad she spoke out. As a citizen I'm proud of her.

I use to be prez. of a large association and I emailed all kinds of stuff. I could have cared less if my boss saw my emails but if they tried to act because we were calling a sick out or strike they would have been wrong for messing with my protected speech.

Anonymous said...

KBP-

The officers are complaining about pay and high numbers of probationers on caseloads. Also Nepotism, favortism on promotions and unfair treatment. The chief does not follow his policices and procedures and snuck two raises in for himself while having the lowest paid officers in the state.
He has dumped over 10,000 ua samples in the past due to his mismanagement. The staff was so oppressed they had to unite.

Go look at were they work. They pay to park and I have seen WWII barraks that look better than this department.

The chief is always on vacation, no communication, they are handwriting reports ( no computer system), I think when they walk around sometimes a couple of dinos chase them around.

The gang and sex offender unit has to be in by 6pm. He now extended it to 9pm ( day light savings time!). No training and so on.....

Anonymous said...

"You do not falsely lock up people and call yourself human." It it were a little bit different say:

You do not increase laws on people after the fact and call yourself human. I would have to reference Congress.

Anonymous said...

I believe the core of the problem with the Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department is the act of collusion in most of the management and decision processes, which negatively affect the defendants, citizens, and officers/staff of Bexar County.

This act of collusion may actually violate a person’s federal civil rights because of these administrators may have knowingly ignored warnings, discrepancies, and manipulated policy by meetings to react to this controversy along with intimidating staff to ignore or remain silent.

This is a really long drawn out way of saying, these administrators could have perpetuated dishonesty and fraud on an organized level unbeknownst to the blind court, and some may say the young and inept court, in Bexar County.

One may say this could be the court of inaction and should not oversee the probation department.

Based on the continued saga in Bexar County, judges failed the public and taxpayers to remove this director and his underlings.

If the judges are too inept to understand their moral duties, then I hope their opponents will seize this opportunity. A call out to a leader in the courts will be the only way to resolve and remove this tyrant.

Without the active participation of the sixteen or so judges, any director can run amuck without the checks and balances needed to maintain the integrity of the adult probation department.

I know there are honest officers based on these many comments. I do not know if there are characteristics of integrity and honesty in any of the administrators.

A reader with a semblance of intelligence can easily conclude the rights of defendants and officers continue to be downplayed by the Bexar County judges.

Obviously, Mr. Fitzpatrick and his entourage of mid-managers failed to act in good faith under the color of law.

My observation is somewhat troublesome because I believe if one defendant lost his or her right to remain free in the community for one day due to a known bogus procedure at the urine collection site or this adult probation department, then these players must be accountable, both TA (vendor) and administrators.

It is time for a public apology from Mr. Fitzpatrick, his assistants, and this vendor.

Minimizing and losing data or changing policy after the fact is not moralistically acceptable and displays a shameful act of arrogance with these players.

A genuine person of high standard would have stopped and audited the first complaint or did research of procedure in order to preserve the integrity of the collection of samples.

The erroneous testing methods were obviously overlooked and ignored, and now Bexar County once again fails to conduct the business of the court with effective professional supervision policies.

Officers continue to kneel down to this tyrant in fear of their jobs knowing the gallows are being prepared for the next officer who steps out of line.

Anonymous said...

Well said last blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

All I got to sat is stay tuned, pay attention to the news on woai. i have a feeling there will be more embaressing moments to the vender / chief and his admin staff / oh aand lets dont forget the judges.

im out

Anonymous said...

Latest news: Chief Fitzgerald trying to push new budget through the Judges who oversee his KINGDOM. You might want to know that the second in command will get another $6000 plus raise if the Judges cave in. He received a $6000 plus raise several months ago. New officers will see $900 raise and senior officers with15-20 years will get $1200-1300. Makes you wonder why an adminstrator at that department would get any raise at all. Why not pay those who actually DOTHE WORK? The Chief is also asking for 200% increase in legal fee funding! Can you guess why???????Morale is at all-time low, pay is detestable, Nepotism is rampant, wrongfull terminations continue, continued retaliation of UNION members and unfilled positions are leading to unmanageable caseloads as per last State audit.
Stay tuned as the perverbial feces will hit the windmaker soon.
The UA lab is a farce and probationers who were jailed as a result of "False Positives" will no doubt want just compensation.
Chief also requesting $175,000 for lab costs. WHAT????????????????????
Chief also paying PART-TIME ex employee $30,000 a year for 10 hour week! WHAT???????????????????

When will the Judges stand up and say, "Enough", sell your house and move back to Arizona. By the way take your deputy with you!

Anonymous said...

GRITS, Could you please get a copy of that budget proposal. I hear that only a small number of judges showed up and the proposal was tabled.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately not many Judges showed to the meeting and the raises were not approved. I understand all Fitzgerald's Top Administrators were there. Oh that's right they all stand to gain close to a $2000 C.O.L. I wonder if any of them work another job?

I also hear, Mrs. Simonelli was present, a sign of true grit. I hope depositions reveal all those involved on the dirty path to her termination. Cline for sure, Queen Bee Roman? She mentioned it to enough people.

Hopefully, the Judges will take the time to review the budget and try to understand it. One Judge previously admitted to a panel of Union Offials it wasn't her job. You'd think she would want to know what she was approving. Thanks to the woe be gone Judge for telling about that last raise Fitzgerald slated for himself with Barlow's help.

That's right, it was OUTED and he was GOOD enough not to take it. Ms. Barlow gas is close to $4.00 a gallon, milk for my kids $4.69. Do you think you could do something to help increase my $30,000 salary? What would it take to get you that motivated in increasing my salary?

Goodness that department could use administrators like Ms. Simonelli. Less sheep.

Judges that Union does not seek members out to GET THE CHIEF. He does that on his own. Officers go to them in hope of POSITIVE CHANGE.

Anonymous said...

to 6/19/2008 8:17 a.m.

Ms. Sheep a.k.a. Manager Yes, I would like to see that e-mail posted as well as that eloquent suspension notice Sheri received. You post Sheri "WAS ALSO FIRED DUE". According to documents provided her that was the ONLY reason. She sent an e-mail and the Director calls it insubordination and terminates her. He sends an e-mail forcing everyone to re-apply, creating havoc. He gets what? Oh right that was suppose to be the Judge's responsibility.

Anonymous said...

The Dead Messenger is true. What I see is the Messenger was acting out for self recognition. Many have admitted Sherri is just doing what she wants and does not keep us union members informed or involved. She is to crowded with followers who only seek gossip. The Lab situation which may of had problems I'm sure will recover. Officers can do much more than scare if there is a positive u.a. they themselves feel may be incorrect.

Sherri has been fired for going far beyond the duties of a Probation Officer. She acted alone thinking she could not be stopped. When you see a full picture you see defendant's to involved and one can only lead to believe Sherri violated policy in her involvements with defendants apart from insubordiantion. During a rally a defendant is present and interviewed. Who set that up? To many defendant's knew what attorney would be handling the possible legal matters against the lab. Who set that up? The defendant's started getting secondary tests at different labs, and over the counter testing. This had never been common before. Who set that up? Who set that up?? The whole process is to systematic. Who set that up? Do defendants commonly get all these ideas?

Put yourself in the defendants shoes. You get a positive u.a. first thing is normally what do I tell my Officer? Will I go to jail? will I lose my job? What will my family say? etc.

Its not that I will go and speak to attorney Parker, attend a rally, and get my hair tested for drugs.

I believe Sherri has perhaps done more in an effort to prove her point of false positives. However, those actions may have gone far past the duties of a Probation Officer. Sherri may of gotten her hands caught in the cookie jar. She does state she has all this evidence. Where is it, and should she have all this evidence? Confidentiality is big among probation work.

It may be that Sherri's care for any wrongful arrest is more for the cover she needs for her wrongdoing.

Its sad that union members monies are now going for the defense of their lost president. A president who showed that errors are part of her makeup.


The Untouchable

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Untouchable you've got a lot of complaints for somebody who offers nothing, ever, on this blog but criticisms of others instead of suggesting solutions.

Just because you come on here repeatedly to trash Sheri and pretend you know her heart and her private activities (all speculation, of course) doesn't make you a credible critic. Just a bitter person who's apparently upset that union members supported Sheri instead of you. Right? What else could possibly be the collective point of all you've written on this blog?

Anonymous said...

yes a very bitter person. maybe because he did not get elected to vp. just a guest.

Anonymous said...

Grits,

Thank you. Again, and as always, monitoring comments with candidness of a professional.

The difference between the two opposing camps is one wishes to see all officers in all counties of the state of Texas be treated with dignity and respect at the same time bring the profession up to the 21st Century, and the other camp wants to see himself elevated to a higher status within the department keeping us in the dark days of ineptitude (similar to what Bexar County is experiencing).

The best thing that could happen to Bexar County Probation is judges take real action. If there is one real leader amongst these judges, I would love to see him or her step up and take control of this mess.

Good officers like Sheri leave or get run off by departments all over Texas because of thefrustration of lack of checks and balances within the department.

If a county has a bad director, then officers and the community suffers.

Sometimes I believe the selection of directors by judges over emphasize the ability to manage numbers (probationer numbers, budgets, and proposals)and under emphasize leadership: A concern to take care of the officers who take care of our citizens.

A basic premise never understood or practiced by any top administrator in Bexar County.

I encourage any officer in Bexar County who has less than 10 years in the business to jump ship.

There is not one person willing to stand up for officers. Sheri was it. Regardless of her methods or motives. She displayed true grit. Pardon the pun.

If anyone knows where discouraged ex-probation officers can go for new employment, please let me know.

Thank you

Anonymous said...

To Mr. Grits,

Here is one solution as you requested.

No Officer has ever come back from from being fired. The department must have something on her to maintain termination. Read my last post and you may call it speculation. I will say its more than that. The Messenger's coffin has been nailed.

Anyway, the union needs to elect another president and move on. Sherri made mistakes and the union shouuld not spend to much time defending what they cannot. They should work on the sagging numbers of it's members. Keep in mind the suspensions Sherri suffered were not overturned, so how is the termination going to be overturned? I'm sure they covered the allegations at one time or another. Beginning with a suspension is a sign that they really just tried to work the situation out. Or as I see it, they played it smarter since the Chief is taking more advise these days. Retaliation? Oh no, our dept. tried to work it out....Do you get it? Anyway, she had representation during her suspension and it didn't do the trick. That means they (the dept.) will be ready to go on for the long haul should the union challenge.

The existing lawsuit has already been weakened due to the relationship Sherri established with the Chief. That relationship is what did the back kick. The President was wrong in allowing that to happen and she had been warned. If you open your eyes you will see that the President's positin meeting with the Chief allowed portions of an existing lawsuit to be dropped. Heres what it is... If the court sees everything is running smooth, why would they step in? Instead they drop a portion of the case against Chief Fitz. Thats the courts for you - do you think they really want to waste the taxpayers money? No, they would rather you work it out. This in turn makes the Chief's position stronger.

Then the outspoken Sherri did what she did, she gets terminated and the union's jaw drops open. Remember as I said, Sherri is a plaintiff in an existing lawsuit and that itself did not matter.

My suggestion is for the union to move on and consider the whole, and not just the president. This battle will only weaken the union among the dept. It should be said that in everyone's interest the union needs to move on. Sherri's situation will only linger costing the existing union members time, effort, and their monies. It should not be spent only on Sherri's cause. The messenger is dead (your title). Many are angered since she dug her own grave. Many are angered for the many mistakes she made. Stop your sympathy and open your eyes and mind. Many say its not Sherri's guts - it's her ignorance. Presidents don't always do the right thing.

That Mr. Grits would be my suggested solution. Although people are not accustomed to change, they need to be trained to move on, and that includes you. Salvage what you have and save the union.

The Untouchable....

Anonymous said...

hey sid:

what the hell do you care anything about the union.
you dropped out like (well never mind) when the tough got going. buzz off P A R T N E R. its been nice with yall out.. later, im out.

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