Mixed messages marked a civil jury’s verdict last week ordering Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral’s office to pay fired nurse Sheila Porter $360,000 in compensation plus an additional $250,000 in “punitive damages.” The sheriff, as readers of this space will recall (see “Cabral’s Sharp Aim,” News and Features, December 16), had barred Porter from the Suffolk County House of Correction as a result of either her failure to properly document injuries received by an inmate from guard brutality (if one believes Cabral) or her having acted as an informant for the FBI, which had been investigating such brutality (if one believes Porter).
The verdict in Porter’s favor vindicated the 62-year-old nurse’s claim for wrongful termination. Nonetheless, it also appears to have vindicated the decision by the US Attorney’s office (reported prior to the civil trial and explained in our December 16 analysis) to drop a criminal investigation into whether the sheriff violated a federal whistle-blower-protection law by firing Porter. The Boston Globe’s Shelley Murphy interviewed one juror who said that while the jury was upset with the Sheriff’s Department for firing Porter, “we didn’t want to crucify Andrea, because she’s doing a good job.” Presumably the juror was referring to Cabral’s announced effort, upon taking office after an upset election, to root out the deeply entrenched culture of brutality toward inmates that characterized the regimes of some of her predecessors — the same goal Porter claimed was her motive for cooperating with the feds.
The US Attorney’s decision not to prosecute — “crucify,” in the juror’s words — Cabral thus appeared to be a wise one, even if arrived at with reluctance. The matter was obviously a civil dispute that should never have been allowed to escalate into a threat of criminal prosecution by the overly sensitive and often power-hungry feds who believed Cabral showed insufficient deference to their informant. Rough justice appears to have been done all around.
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