By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration has been accused in an extraordinary lawsuit of exploiting vacation leave policies to unfairly sideline senior law enforcement officers.
Two deputy commissioners at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services, Doan Cleare and Bernardette Thompson-Murray, allege in new affidavits that National Security Minister Marvin Dames forced them to take vacation leave to facilitate last month’s appointment of Charles Murphy, their junior, as commissioner of corrections. They want the Supreme Court to quash Mr Murphy’s appointment and declare it invalid.
Mrs Thompson-Murray - the highest ranked woman in prison service history - and Mr Cleare have careers spanning 30 and 25 years respectively. In documents filed on Friday, they allege they were inexplicably forced to take vacation leave last year even though Mr Murphy had accumulated more weeks of vacation than their combined total. When their leave ended, they say they were left in limbo by Ministry of National Security officials who ordered them not to return to the BDCS but who failed to assign them new jobs.
In his affidavit, Mr Cleare also alleges Commissioner Murphy actively campaigned for the Free National Movement in the lead up to the last general election “in open contravention of public service policy”.
Munroe & Associates is seeking a Supreme Court order quashing the recommendation of the Public Service Commission and the minister of national security to appoint Mr Murphy as commissioner of corrections, a declaration that the applicants’ leave is not properly accounted as vacation leave, that the decision of the acting permanent secretary to refuse the applicants to return to their substantive posts as deputy commissioners is unlawful, consequential relief, costs and damages.
It is highly irregular for senior law enforcement officials to sue the government while in the service.
Wayne Munroe, QC, believes similar dynamics are at play in the Royal Bahamas Police Force where eight senior police officers were recently directed to take leave. Five of those officers do not have enough vacation time to last into retirement and The Tribune understands some of them have fewer accumulated vacation leave and are further from their scheduled retirement than the three senior police officers allowed to remain on duty.
The Tribune understands when their vacation leave ends, the five officers will not return to the RBPF but will be transferred. However, Mr Munroe says public service rules do not allow officers to be transferred against their will. He said the issues were adjudicated in a 2011 case he tried involving former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl Grant-Thompson and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. The Supreme Court declared in favour of Mrs Grant-Thompson, who is now a Supreme Court justice, after she was promoted to deputy law reform and revision commissioner against her will. Although the court ruled the JLSC failed to treat Mrs Grant-Thompson fairly and gave the governor general flawed advice concerning the DPP appointment, it refused to overturn the JLSC’s appointment of Vinette Graham Allen as the director of public prosecutions.
Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday he would reserve comment until he reviews the lawsuit.
In her affidavit, Mrs Thompson-Murray says she met Mr Dames and Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of National Security Eugene Poitier on August 7, 2018.
“I was told by the minister that Mr Murphy has indicated to him that he can run the department and so with that he will let him put his words to action by giving him the opportunity,” she alleges.
“I was then asked by the minister which department I want to go as I was not going to return to the corrections department. I interpreted this statement as the minister making it clear that I would never be given the opportunity to become commissioner of corrections. I indicated to the minister and acting permanent secretary that I am a career corrections officer and that I am not seeking a transfer. I also indicated that if the government intended to advertise the post of commissioner why was there a need to transfer me out of the department prior to selection of a permanent head? Notwithstanding my protest I was sent on directed leave by the acting permanent secretary.”
Mrs Thompson-Murphy says she was pressured to sign an application for directed leave when, near the end of that leave, she requested three weeks of vacation to address personal matters.
“… I spoke to Ms Ernestine Williams at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services and she indicated that in order for me to get the three weeks’ vacation I would need to complete an application for the directed leave which I was apprehensive about doing,” she alleges. “A few days later two applications were sent to me, one for the period of the directed leave and the other for my requested vacation. I signed them both.”
When she returned from leave in January 2019, Mrs Thompson-Murray says she found a department that was unprepared to accommodate her.
“I, along with Deputy Commissioner Doan Cleare, wrote the permanent secretary, Ministry of Public Service, copying the chairman of the Public Service Commission and the acting permanent secretary to seek clarification on this most unusual instruction to take accumulated leave to allow for an officer, Mr Charles Murphy who has more accumulated leave than both me and Mr Cleare, to act as commissioner of corrections. I never received a formal response or acknowledgement of my letter,” her affidavit says.
Acting PS Poitier prevented her from performing her duties, failed to assign her new duties and instructed her not to return to the department, she alleges.
Mr Cleare says he also attended the meeting on August 7, 2018 and was told by Mr Dames to immediately take leave.
“He further stated that Assistant Commissioner Murphy [who was at the time the fourth highest ranking officer] was going all around telling persons that he can run the institution and that he, as the minister, wanted to give Mr Murphy an opportunity,” he alleges.
“I indicated that this was most unusual and unfair as Mr Murphy had more accumulated vacation than both myself and Deputy Commissioner Murray combined. I had just returned from one month vacation and I never acted as commissioner and the senior deputy commissioner, Ms Murray, who was acting as commissioner, was doing so without any official designation from the minister or the Public Service Commission. Notwithstanding my protest, I was subsequently placed on 23 weeks forced leave on August 7, 2018.”
Mr Cleare’s leave ended on February 28. He alleges he could not access his office during his time off because the locks were changed. He said to date he has not been allowed to retrieve his personal items from the office, which is controlled by Mr Murphy.
The Ministry of National Security launched a global search for a new prison chief sometime around August 2018.
Mrs Thompson-Murray said her encounter with Mr Dames discouraged her from applying for the top position because she interpreted his statements as a sign she “would never be given an opportunity to become commissioner of corrections.” Mr Cleare, on the other hand, applied for the top post during his “forced leave.” Both officers say Commissioner Murphy did not qualify for the top post.
“Two criteria for the post were three years’ experience as deputy commissioner or 10 years’ experience in comparable post and environment,” Mr Cleare’s affidavit says. “To my knowledge only two officials with the Department of [Correctional Services] met those criteria, Deputy Commissioner Murray and myself. Mr Charles Murphy, the successful candidate, was appointed assistant commissioner in 2017 and was never deputy commissioner of prison nor was he in an executive management post for the required years which were both criteria in the Public Service Commission advertisement.”
Public Service Commission members interviewed Mr Cleare on January 22 and January 29.
“To the best of my knowledge,” his affidavit says, “no one on the panel had the practical or academic experience with operations of corrections or penal institutions to judge the appropriateness of the candidates. In addition, the panel had apparent conflicts of interests, as I have been advised that the chairman of the commission manned the political office of the member of Parliament for Killarney in the period between 2012 and 2017 and Mr Murphy actively campaigned for the Free National Movement in the last Parliament election in open contravention of public service policy.”
Ms Thompson-Murray joined Her Majesty’s Prison, as the facility was then known, as a principal officer in 1989, working up to become the senior deputy commissioner responsible for security. When Commissioner Charles Wright retired in 2017, she was the most senior officer at the prison and acted as commissioner before “being forced to take accumulated leave,” according to her affidavit.
Mr Cleare was transferred from the Ministry of Finance to the prison as director of information technology in 1994. According to his affidavit, Mr Cleare was appointed acting deputy commissioner on April 12, 2013 with responsibilities for administration. He was confirmed deputy commissioner on April 1, 2014. He lists numerous duties, accomplishments and qualifications in his lawsuit.
Mr Dames could not be reached for comment yesterday.