Fe­bru­ary trial set for deputy

Whistle­blower says she was vil­i­fied for sid­ing with polo mogul John Good­man

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Marc Free­man Staff writer

If you’ve parked in one of the 600 pub­lic spa­ces on floors four through seven in the park­ing garage at Mar­gar­i­taville, you’re help­ing the re­sort’s spe­cial tax­ing district pay off the loan.

One of the odd­est de­vel­op­ments from Wellington polo club founder John Good­man’s high-pro­file DUI man­slaugh­ter case was when he was ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to es­cape from house ar­rest.

The Palm Beach County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and prose­cu­tors be­lieved they had proof that would put Good­man in prison. But then a sher­iff ’s deputy broke ranks and be­came Good­man’s un­likely ally in the fall of 2012.

All these years later, a trial set for Fe­bru­ary will ex­plore Deputy Brid­gette Bott’s claim that she was vil­i­fied for speak­ing out on Good­man’s be­half while oth­ers in uni­form con­demned him.

Thanks in part to Bott’s help, Good­man, 54, was cleared of the al­le­ga­tion that he de­lib­er­ately busted open his GPS an­kle mon­i­tor.

Yet Bott says she was pun­ished with a 40-hour un­paid sus­pen­sion, and barred from work­ing a lu­cra­tive over­time de­tail at Good­man’s es­tate, af­ter the judge let Good­man re­sume house ar­rest un­der a then-$7 mil­lion ap­pel­late Palm Beach County Deputy Brid­gette Bott says she was vil­i­fied for speak­ing out on John Good­man’s be­half.

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Good­man ul­ti­mately was con­victed at a 2014 re­trial fo­cus­ing on the tragic death of Scott Pa­trick Wil­son, a 23-year-old Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate. All of Good­man’s ap­peals have failed, and he’s serv­ing a 16-year state prison sen­tence.

Bott, 50, con­tin­ues to work as a road pa­trol deputy while she sues her boss, Sher­iff Ric Brad­shaw, over the Good­man episode.

The law­suit

Her first al­le­ga­tion is a whistle­blower claim. She

says she was re­tal­i­ated against af­ter she “dis­closed a con­spir­acy to ob­struct jus­tice” in Good­man’s case, which in­volved false tes­ti­mony by other deputies de­signed to end Good­man’s house ar­rest.

“In ad­di­tion, her rep­u­ta­tion within her place of em­ploy­ment has been harmed, be­cause she de­clined to per­jure her­self for the sake of send­ing a no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nal de­fen­dant to prison,” wrote Bott’s lawyer, Isidro Gar­cia.

The sec­ond al­le­ga­tion is a First Amend­ment claim. This in­volves Bott tak­ing the wit­ness stand on Dec. 18, 2012, and tes­ti­fy­ing there was no proof Good­man tam­pered with his track­ing de­vice.

Bott said that when she ex­am­ined the mon­i­tor it only had a small crack in it. She al­leges that a sergeant later “broke open the an­kle mon­i­tor while in­spect­ing the de­vice, and then falsely claimed that Good­man had bro­ken it.”

The al­leged re­tal­i­a­tion against Bott “vi­o­lated (her) right of free­dom of speech, which in­cludes the right and obli­ga­tion to truth­fully tes­tify in a court pro­ceed­ing with­out reprisal,” Gar­cia wrote.

The civil law­suit, filed in state court five years ago, was trans­ferred in May to the fed­eral court­house in West Palm Beach. The sher­iff ’s of­fice ex­er­cised its right to switch venues.

“Al­though we are in a dif­fer­ent fo­rum now, we are look­ing for­ward to hav­ing Deputy Bott’s claims heard be­fore a jury that will hope­fully vin­di­cate her rights and the abuses that took place within the sher­iff ’s of­fice on this case,” Gar­cia told the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel.

She’s seek­ing an es­ti­mated $150,000 for lost wages and other dam­ages, plus at­tor­neys’ fees and costs.

Suhaill Mo­rales, a Co­ral Gables at­tor­ney who rep­re­sents the sher­iff’s of­fice, said she was not able to com­ment. In a July 16 court fil­ing, she called Bott’s claims “mer­it­less and un­sup­ported.”

Both sides agree that an­other round of me­di­a­tion would be point­less, and the trial is sched­uled to start Feb. 4 be­fore U.S. District Judge Don­ald M. Mid­dle­brooks.

Bro­ken mon­i­tor

The con­tro­versy orig­i­nates with Bott’s de­ci­sion to vol­un­teer for a se­cu­rity de­tail set up in May 2012 af­ter mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Good­man was con­victed in his first trial.

Back then, the founder of In­ter­na­tional Polo Club Palm Beach was pay­ing $2,000 a day for two deputies to watch him 24/7 at his nearly 80-acre prop­erty. A sin­gle mother, Bott said she jumped at the chance to pocket $33 an hour for work­ing eight-hour shifts guard­ing Good­man on some of her reg­u­lar days off.

But it all ended when Good­man stepped out of his shower with a mal­func­tion­ing mon­i­tor on the night of Oct. 10, 2012. Good­man was taken to jail, and the next day Sher­iff Brad­shaw said it looked sus­pi­cious.

The sher­iff re­leased pho­tos of the dam­aged mon­i­tor, which ap­peared al­most com­pletely cracked open, its in­ter­nal mech­a­nisms ex­posed. Brad­shaw said it looked like Good­man de­lib­er­ately smashed the black box around his an­kle with the edge of a hand­held mir­ror.

At a hear­ing two months later, Good­man’s ex­perts told a judge there was no ev­i­dence that a tool or mir­ror was used to dam­age the de­vice, sup­port­ing Good­man’s tes­ti­mony that the break was ac­ci­den­tal.

Bott also tes­ti­fied as a wit­ness for Good­man, and the judge or­dered Good­man’s re­lease from jail.

“There­after, (Bott) was re­moved from the Good­man de­tail, in re­tal­i­a­tion for her tes­ti­mony, and was sus­pended for 40 hours with­out pay for wholly pre­tex­tual rea­sons,” the law­suit states.

In court doc­u­ments, the sher­iff ’s of­fice ar­gued that it or­dered Bott’s sus­pen­sion well be­fore the Good­man in­ci­dent.

It said Bott was dis­ci­plined over her mis­han­dling of a res­i­den­tial call in­volv­ing a sui­ci­dal man on July 11, 2012. The man killed him­self not long af­ter Bott and an­other deputy left.

Bott in­sists she wasn’t told about the sus­pen­sion un­til Nov. 20, af­ter the an­kle mon­i­tor is­sue, and that she did noth­ing wrong on the sui­cide call.

Pre-trial fight­ing

The sher­iff ’s of­fice is try­ing to limit Bott’s po­ten­tial jury award should she pre­vail. The sher­iff’s of­fice con­tends the whistle­blower claim is lim­ited to her com­plaint about her 40-hour sus­pen­sion and the wages she lost be­cause of it.

This ar­gu­ment points out that a state cir­cuit court judge pre­vi­ously ruled Bott can’t pur­sue the part of the re­tal­i­a­tion claim con­cern­ing her be­ing taken off the Good­man guard de­tail. The sher­iff’s lawyers con­tend that the state judge’s rul­ings carry over to fed­eral court, in­clud­ing an or­der stop­ping Bott from col­lect­ing dam­ages for “men­tal an­guish” and “loss of rep­u­ta­tion.”

Bott dis­agrees, and ar­gues Nutt’s rul­ings were in­cor­rect and are not fi­nal or­ders bind­ing on the fed­eral court. Judge Mid­dle­brooks has yet to rule on this dis­pute.

PALM BEACH POST FILE

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