Our I-Team has been looking into the surprising way a local inmate work crew has been spending some of their time.
The I-Team followed the crew for several days and discovered what local parents are calling a public safety concern.
After following the crew on several occasions, the I-Team never spotted them doing any work.
Al Lopez Park seemed to be a popular spot where the workers were seen not working. The Tampa city owned public park, is typically full of families at the playgrounds. The I-Team confirmed with city officials the prisoner work crew had no official business with the park.
After reviewing our video, parent Jerry Davis was appalled.
"A park with all these kids that's just uncalled for!" he exclaimed.
On one visit to Al Lopez Park, one of the inmates took the chance to roll something to smoke.
In the video shot by the I-Team, one inmate pulls a brown paper bag out of his pants where there was a smaller plastic bag inside. He carefully puts the contents on paper, he rolls it, he licks it, he does this a few more times and then lights up.
After taking several puffs he passes it to another inmate. That prisoner takes three deep puffs, holds it in for at least 5 seconds, and then blows it out.
One concerned parent says, "Where's their supervisor?"
Florida Department of Corrections officials identified the driver as Jason Evans. He was supposed to be supervising the crew, but we found him in the truck looking at his cell phone, while the inmates were smoking at the back of the truck. Evans sat inside with the doors wide open and the windows down.
Tiffany Marcano, who frequents the park with her two children, was very concerned about what the inmates were smoking.
Reporter: "Do you think the inmates were being properly supervised?"
Tiffany: "Absolutely not. I mean the video shows the corrections officer was on his phone."
The inmates are serving time for crimes ranging from drug dealing near schools, to robbery, to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. One has a history of torturing animals.
Marcano says, "it scares me because I come here all the time with my children and I'm here by myself because my husband is at work during the day, so it's scary."
The I-Team followed the crew on several occasions. We never really saw them do any work at all. We witnessed them drive around, park under trees, and sit in the truck for hours.
At the same park on a different day, we spotted a prisoner rolling a substance into another cigarette and passing it around.
Parent Jerry Davis was so mad after seeing our video he called the DOC for answers.
"They put me on hold," Jerry said.
Last checked he got no response.
We invited Department of Corrections officials to come look at our video and do an interview, but they declined.
That doesn't sit well with Ms. Marcano.
"I think they need to become interested because obviously that's a safety hazard," she says.
The DOC did send a written statement on November 14. Spokesperson Michelle Glady wrote:
"It's unfortunate that ABC Action News has refused to provide us the video or more information to assist in our investigation of these allegations. The department has absolutely zero tolerance for misconduct and any individuals found to be doing anything unlawful or inappropriate are subject to immediate disciplinary action."
However, prior to Glady's email, we made phone calls and sent emails giving them the opportunity to view the video and interview with us. Here's proof, we sent the DOC an email several days before they sent us that statement which was on November 8.
I-Team Investigator Jarrod Holbrook wrote:
"This involves the crew working out of DOT truck number #29119 . We have monitored this crew on several occasions and the video we discussed is something I hope DOC is taking seriously and willing to see. We have offered to interview and show DOC the video and I need to know if you are going to take that opportunity and set a date and time asap."
When asking parents who needs to be held accountable, one mother replies, "Lots of people probably. First the person supervising needs to be held responsible."
Another concerned mother says, "There are kids around and if there are inmates somebody is supposed to be watching them they shouldn't be alone they shouldn't be doing that."
Officer Evans has been employed with DOC since 1997.
Our invitation with the Department of Corrections to view our video and interview with us has and still remains open.
Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on Facebook , Twitter , or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .