February trial set for deputy
Whistleblower says she was vilified for siding with polo mogul John Goodman
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.