Palm Beach Sheriff's deputy gets green light in whistleblower suit

By Nicole Balli | Nov 25, 2016

WEST PALM BEACH–After three years, a deputy in the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office will have her day in court.

WEST PALM BEACH–After three years, a deputy in the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office will have her day in court.

In a pending whistleblower lawsuit, Bridgette Bott claims her employer, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, retaliated against her for testimony she gave in the DUI manslaughter case of John Goodman, the Wellington polo club founder. The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 16 in Bott's favor, allowing the case to proceed and rejecting the sheriff’s argument that Bott  was not permitted to pursue legal action.

The complaint stems from Bott’s involvement in Goodman's criminal trial. In 2012, Goodman, then on house arrest and awaiting trial, was accused of deliberately tampering with and damaging his ankle monitoring device. Bott, who was working a private security detail for Goodman on the night in question, testified on Goodman’s behalf that the damage occurred accidently and that the accused brought it to her attention immediately following the incident.

The lawsuit further alleges a conspiracy between Bradshaw and the Assistant State Attorney to revoke Goodman’s bond, and claims Bott was called to testify then subsequently turned away from a hearing on the charge when prosecutors discovered her testimony contradicted that of other deputies, which supported the state’s case. Bott was later deposed by defense attorneys when reports placed her at the scene.

“Apparently (Assistant State Attorney Sherri Collins) had not really read Bott’s report of the incident, which contradicted the other deputies who claimed that obviously this was an escape attempt," Isidro Garcia, Bott's attorney, told the Florida Record.

Bott’s account successfully cleared Goodman and restored his bond agreement; however, shortly after, she was given a 40-hour unpaid suspension, removed from the $33 per hour security detail pending an investigation and shunned by her colleagues.

“The people at the sheriff’s office were very angry at Bott,” Garcia added.

Bradshaw denies the allegations, saying Bott’s disciplinary action resulted from a prior incident involving a man who committed suicide. Garcia contended that this was used as a pretext for discipline in the Goodman incident.

Harriet Lewis, the attorney for Bradshaw, was not available for comment.

The case was set for trial in August, but had been stayed pending the appellate court’s ruling on a defense motion. Bradshaw argued that Bott could not sue the office because she had not followed administrative procedures for conflict resolution. The sheriff’s office has a collective bargaining unit agreement as well as a review board to determine cause in cases of termination or disciplinary action. It is not intended for whistleblower claims, however.

“They claimed that that was an administrative procedure for Whistleblower Act purposes and the Fourth (District Court of Appeals) determined ‘no it’s not.’ It was never really intended to be set up as a whistleblower resolution,” Garcia said.

The Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliatory actions resulting from the report of illegal or dangerous activities on the part of the employer or contractor.

Bott remains employed as a deputy in the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. She is seeking undisclosed financial damages in her claim. 

With the Appellate Court’s decision, the case will go to a jury trial pending a reset.

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