A new lawsuit filed by three fired RIOC managers jointly lifts suspicions about mismanagement, incompetence, coverups and possibly criminal behavior within RIOC under Shelton J. Haynes. Tales of retaliation and abuse leading up to their dismissals are eye-opening. Following is a summary. Detailed reports will follow.
by David Stone
It’s Valentine’s Day, 2023, but instead of flowers and love, Erica Spencer-EL, Jessica Cerone and Amy Smith dumped a multimillion-dollar lawsuit on RIOC. (Attached below.) Their target is President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and his inner circle. Longtime close friend Altheria Jackson is frequently mentioned along with Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson and Human Resources AVP Tajuna Sharpe.
From the New Lawsuit
As Haynes built a dense bunker around RIOC, the state agency’s inner workings have rarely been so nakedly exposed. Among the most shocking is this from former Public Relations Manager Amy Smith concerning the drowning of a young man in the Sportspark Pool:
Smith and (PSD Chief Kevin) Brown held weekly meetings to strategize how RIOC could improve public sentiment towards the PSD. During one of those meetings in the weeks following the drowning, Brown asked Smith if she wanted to view the video footage. Smith agreed and was immediately alarmed by the video footage which showed that the lifeguards were not at their assigned posts; that the victim was in distress for an incredibly long time; that members of the public, and not RIOC lifeguards or staff, were the ones who noticed that the boy had sunk to the bottom of the pool; that once the boy was removed from the pool, again, it was members of the public, rather than RIOC lifeguard staff, that first performed CPR on the victim; and, lastly, that RIOC lifeguards appeared frantic, unorganized, unskilled, and untrained for the momentAmy Smith in Lawsuit Against RIOC
After internally raising issues of concern that were ignored, Smith says that she filed an anonymous report with the Inspector General. Among her concerns was a direct order from top management to not put anything in writing concerning the incident.
Although she believed that the video “displayed clear negligence,” on the part of Jackson and Haynes, she was further alarmed because she heard they’d planned a pool reopening without “assessing safety protocols.”
Haynes’s inner circle was most concerned about losing revenue and upsetting residents,” she observed in a follow-up meeting..
But as frightful as that is, there was more.
Retaliation Against Whistleblowers
Despite the many accusations raised against Haynes and his inner circle, the core of the new lawsuit revolves around retaliation. The mistreatment got so bad that one plaintiff – Cerone – took a leave because of the stress and began taking anti-depressant medication.
While multiple concerns worried Spencer-EL, Cerone and Smith, the most worrisome focuses on Swift Emergency Medical COVID Testing Site.
The former RIOC managers noticed, they say under oath, purchasing irregularities, insider dealing between Swift’s owner and Haynes, and improper use of RIOC resources, including labor.
As The Daily has reported on much of this already, we’ll save the details for a future report. But the important fact is that the plaintiffs registered their concerns. First, they went through internal channels, but when that proved fruitless, they registered their complaints with the Inspector General.
So did we, and we believe the investigation or investigations are still underway. But we also believe there are others suggested by our reports and this lawsuit.
Thereafter, the new lawsuit says, Haynes and his inner circle engaged in a deliberate practice of retaliation against all three. Contradictory work assignments, accusations, lockouts and – eventually – abrupt dismissals followed.
State laws protect whistleblowers from abuse by management, but the plaintiffs assert that retaliation was quick and stressful. All three report harsh, frustrating dealings with Haynes, Sharpe and Jackson while trying to do their jobs.
Of course, there are at least two sides to every story and the RIOC defendants certainly have theirs. But we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize how neatly these charges matched our perceptions from the outside.
Questions and Thoughts Going Forward
We will go more into depth over the next week or so, but we wonder why Governor Kathy Hochul has done nothing about these events. She is ultimately in charge of RIOC with her name at the top of the letterhead. We know that at least one elected official has tried getting through to her, especially about Haynes.
The net result is that she is as much responsible for this mess as any of the defendants as well as the widespread deterioration under Haynes.