Details revealed in investigation Burke suspended


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Details revealed in investigation Burke suspended

By Matt Grant. CREATED Mar 5, 2013

FORT MYERS - The state is investigating whether Lee County Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke improperly suspended an investigation into a top level administrator.

Fox 4 is learning more details about an investigation into Dr. Deedara Hicks and what we're finding is raising questions about whether the superintendent used his authority to stop you from learning about it.

The state ruled "no further action" is required into an investigation surrounding whether or not Hicks was under the influence of alcohol at work - though there is no explanation from the state on how investigators came to that conclusion. Now Burke is facing his own investigation over whether he abused his authority to suspend the investigation.

Hicks was hired as the director of secondary operations in charge of many principals and worked previously with Burke.

According to the state's investigation, multiple witnesses, including the director of professional standards Ranice Monroe, said Hicks appeared to be drunk when she reported to work at 9 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2011. It was her second week on the job.

Witnesses said Hicks "spoke in a loud boisterous voice" and they "detected a strong alcoholic odor."

The report says Hicks was "observed by colleagues to have difficulty walking, staying awake, speaking and emitted the odor of alcohol."

One witness later described seeing Hicks passed out in her car. According to the state's report she was "slumped over into the passenger's seat, was not moving and appeared to be unconscious."

She had to be driven home.

According to the report, a witness described finding "an empty wine cooler bottle" in Hicks' car, a "sealed mini bottle of wine inside her purse' and "several empty bottles in her trunk." Two wine bottles were given to Burke. A Styrofoam cup in Hicks' car was reported to have "smelled like it contained an alcoholic beverage" and its contents were emptied.

By being in possession of alcohol, Hicks would have violated the district's alcohol policy which states "using or possessing alcohol...while in or on district strictly prohibited." The policy states if there is "reasonable suspicion" to believe an employee is under the influence they should be tested.

Anyone who "refuses to do so...shall be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination."
But the state documents don't indicate that Hicks was ever tested. After professional standards coordinator Craig Baker took witness statements the district's attorney drafted a letter for Hicks to sign acknowledging she had been under the influence of alcohol and that she would complete a treatment program. Hicks refused to sign the letter.

According to the report Burke held a meeting in January 2012 with human resources and attorneys for both Hicks and the district. Despite not asking Hicks to undergo any testing and multiple witness accounts suspect Hicks was under the influence, Burke attributed Hicks' behavior to health issues.

In that same month, the state documents say Burke ordered human resources to suspend Coordinator Baker's investigation of Hicks citing concerns that it violates Hicks' medical privacy rights and due process.

But in August 2012, without Burke's knowledge, Baker sent his findings to the state department of education shortly before he left the district. That's when the state began its own investigation.

Burke and his lieutenants fired back. According to the state's documents, the district's chief administrative officer alleged the accusations may have been motivated by "racism." Burke also reached out to the state saying no "formal investigation" took place and, in separate letters, discredits the district's professional standards department calling Baker a "disgruntled former employee" who was not authorized to forward the Hicks case to the state.

In our attempts to get information on this case last year, district spokesman Joe Donzelli told us no investigation took place - leaving you in the dark because that means the district doesn't have to release information.

After the incident, Burke gave his former colleague Hicks a raise - the highest possible salary for her position.
She has never been disciplined.

Meanwhile, the state intends to investigate whether superintendent Burke acted appropriately when dealing with the Hicks case.

Matt Grant

Follow me on Twitter @MattGrantFox4