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Six prison guards forced out over videotaped beating of inmate

Six officers at Florida State Prison in Starke have been terminated for the beating of an unidentified inmate in solitary confinement. Five more have been put on administrative leave.

On April 8, the power went out at FSP. The officers — a lieutenant, three sergeants and two line officers — thinking that the video cameras in solitary confinement weren't working, pulled an inmate out of his cell and beat him up.

But the cameras were on a backup charger, and a camera recorded the beating. Based on a tip from an officer, "prison leadership" checked the camera and got the evidence. Details of the incident were unavailable Wednesday.

"I want to be crystal-clear about this: I will never tolerate inmate abuse. I will take swift, decisive action anytime it occurs," said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil on Wednesday.

McNeil also said that when the department completes its investigation he will turn over the findings to the State Attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit and the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

"My goal is to rid the Florida prison system of the handful of employees with this mind-set," he said.

In an unrelated incident at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford on April 9, four correctional officers have been put on administrative leave while an incident of excessive force against an inmate is investigated.

The unidentified FSP inmate is being treated for his injuries, said DOC acting Inspector General Walt Murphree. "His injuries are consistent with a physical attack and are not life-threatening," he said.

The swift condemnation of the beating by DOC officials stands in sharp contrast to the reaction of prison administrators a decade ago when correctional officers beat to death Frank Valdes, an inmate in solitary confinement at FSP.

For months after the incident, department officials called Valdes' death "a suicide," insisting he dove headfirst off his bunk. Ultimately, eight officers were prosecuted. Three were acquitted, and charges were eventually dropped against the five others. The Valdes family received more than $700,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit two years ago.

Of the six officers at FSP who were terminated after the April 8 beating, one resigned before being fired. He is Correctional Officer Charles Reames, who has been a correctional officer for 25 years.

The others are: Lt. William Hinson (22 years with the department), Sgt. Anthony Reed (16 years), Correctional Officer Raymond Williams (12 years) and Sgt. James Coleman and Sgt. Richard Kross (both with the department for six years).

Hinson has four disciplinary infractions in his personnel file — one for "negligent actions," one for "disobeying an order" and two for "conduct unbecoming of an officer." Reed has one infraction for "negligent actions," and Williams has one for "abuse of sick leave." Details of the infractions were not available Wednesday.

Kross, Coleman and Reames have no disciplinary records.

The names of the nine correctional officers put on administrative leave — five at FSP and four at Union — have not been released.

Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8068.

Six prison guards forced out over videotaped beating of inmate 04/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 10:50am]
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