HomeJane Turner: From FBI Whistleblower to Whistleblower Advocate

Jane Turner: From FBI Whistleblower to Whistleblower Advocate

Published On: March 15th, 2023Categories: Whistleblower News and Qui Tam Blog

This article originally appeared in JD Supra.

From oustee to advocate, former FBI agent Jane Turner continues to uplift whistleblowers while sharing her personal story exposing widespread misconduct and cover-ups within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Standing outside a Minneapolis courtroom 16 years ago, jurors hugged Turner with tears in their eyes after siding with her in what would go down in federal whistleblower history. Turner, who served 25 devoted, decorated, and scot-free years in the FBI, had just won her case against her former employer who, witness after witness, ripped apart her years of service.

Turner joined the FBI in 1978 for all the right reasons. That little girl who grew up watching spy shows and superhero films never dreamed that years later she would be the one painted as the bad guy when up against the very agency she had dedicated her career to.

Prior to joining the Bureau, Turner was the only female counselor at Father Don Murray’s Sky Ranch for Boys, a court adjudicated placement for “trouble-prone” boys under 18. But instead of finding herself in a safe space prioritizing rehabilitation, Turner watched as Sky Ranch ignored ongoing sexual abuse perpetuated by individuals at the highest level. Turner raised this issue and was terminated. It would take years for those allegations to ever come to light. Fierce abuse continued up until Murray’s death in 1975 after he drunkenly crashed a plane, killing himself and a young resident of the ranch in what a survivor of Murray’s assaults described as a “suicide mission”.

“I made a promise to myself that I would never allow sexual abuse to children happen again,” Turner said.

When Turner walked the graduation stage in Quantico, Virginia, on what she described as “the proudest day of my life,” she was not just becoming an FBI agent. She was becoming a female FBI agent, a distinction she would never be allowed to forget. At her first post in Seattle, Washington, hard-working women like Turner were seen as threats, lewd cartoons were circulated by male colleagues, comments were made about menstrual cycles, and compliments were followed up with sentiments that it was ‘too bad Turner would eventually leave the Bureau to go get married and have children’. Yet when her male counterparts were promoted, it was because they had a family to support after all. These double standards only made Turner work harder, engendering jealousy and outrage from her male colleagues. Currently, women only make up 23% of FBI special agents.

Turner was later transferred to a New York City office, where after being told that women could not work the Organized Crime unit, she did just that. While Turner’s focus was supposed to be external crime busting, she had her hands full with the criminals just doors down from her sporting that same badge. After reporting a pedophilic special agent and group of men who had taken pictures up women’s skirts using a spy camera, Turner found herself transferred once again.

Next stop, Indian Country in Minnesota. As the Senior Resident Agent, Turner led 14 Sheriffs and covered 13,000 square miles. Despite a comment from one of these sheriffs that women did not belong in law enforcement at all, Turner fought hard to bring justice to the victims in her jurisdiction.

But yet again, Turner’s assigned cases were meeting their match with the internal scandals of the FBI. Young female agents confided in Turner about a supervisor who had been sexually harassing them, yet her reports to internal inspectors were brushed off. It did not matter if she was in a skyrise Manhattan office or miles from the next town in Minnesota: Turner was being ignored, or punished for her outspokenness, no matter where the FBI tried to stick her.

Turner was regarded as an expert in crimes against children, and even instructed other law enforcement agents on how to investigate these crimes. But this very expertise was ignored when Turner blew the whistle on the mishandling of child rape cases on a North Dakota Indian reservation. To Turner’s disgust, fellow agents had deemed an obvious case of sexual assault against a five-year-old as a mere injury from a car accident, returning him home to his father, who later pled guilty to the rape.

“I flew down to Minneapolis and informed upper management of this problem, and was immediately retaliated against,” Turner said. “I was eventually constructively discharged from the FBI because of my whistleblowing in 2003 after 25 years of dedicated service.”

When challenged in court, the FBI justified removing Turner based on her “performance,” though colleagues came and testified to her stellar work as an agent over the many years.

“Federal agents, Native American reservation law enforcement personnel, and Assistant United States Attorneys who worked closely with Turner averred that she did not commit the specific procedural errors alleged [by the FBI], that historically her work was outstanding, and that her performance showed no decline during the [relevant time period],” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit noted.

Turner ended up winning that jury verdict after a near 10-year battle, with the total recovery, costs, fees, and damages awarded exceeding $1.5 million. Not done yet, she entered the courtroom for a second time after being recommended for removal following her allegations that a fellow agent had stolen items from the 9/11 Ground Zero crime scene. Turner won, again, and retired.

“Women were discouraged from making complaints, and told it would ruin their career,” Turner said.

Now, Turner has made a career out of those very “complaints,” helping others blow the whistle on malpractice in their own fields and workplaces. As a staunch advocate for whistleblowers like herself, Turner sits on the Board of Directors of the National Whistleblower Center, and is a contributing editor and podcast host at Whistleblower Network News (WNN) where she shares the stories of others who have spoken truth to power.

“The trauma I experienced as an FBI Whistleblower has led me to be an advocate for others,” Turner said. “In my whistleblower journey, I have come to understand the tremendous sacrifice and courage of whistleblowers.”

Turner has spoken at a handful of National Whistleblower Day celebrations, and is currently leading the movement to have National Whistleblower Day recognized by all federal agencies via an executive order by President Joseph R. Biden.

“Our culture needs to change in order to recognize whistleblowers as real heroes and warriors who make the world a better place,” Turner said. “Federal agencies also need to recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by whistleblowers and have a better understanding of the whistleblower process.”

Jane’s daughter, Victoria, is her mom’s number one supporter.

“My mother has always, and will always, be my hero,” Victoria said. “Every time I hear her story told, there always seems to be another great piece of advice or something to be inspired by. It has pretty much been her and I since the beginning, so I have watched the highs, lows, and everything in between.”

Victoria, who currently serves WNN as a Reporter & Assistant Podcast Producer, hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps and continue her advocacy for whistleblowers after graduating with her degree in communications and public relations.

“It is still amazing to see her keep soldiering on with strength and determination, most recently with the WNN column and podcast she runs,” Victoria said. “She is doing that out of faith and duty to others, knowing that she went through her experience without a community of whistleblowers to lift her up or say, ‘I’ve been where you are, and I can show you the way forward’.”

Victoria said this scene from the Emmy-award-winning political drama West Wing, where the character Leo describes uplifting someone you sympathize with, perfectly sums up her mother’s attitude towards helping those once in her challenging position.

As we reflect on the contributions made to the world of whistleblowing during this year’s Women’s History Month, we asked Jane Turner about the state of whistleblowing and the FBI today, almost two decades after her cases.

“The landscape for female whistleblowers has changed since 2003,” Turner said. “It is still very difficult in the FBI to be a whistleblower, male or female, but hard-fought battles have brought about significant change.”

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