TALLAHASSEE — Florida prison officials have ordered a criminal investigation and the transfers of five key employees following a suspicious death of an inmate at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.
The Department of Corrections ended weeks of silence Thursday and confirmed the probe in response to questions.
"We do have an active criminal investigation into an inmate death that happened in early September of this year at Union Correctional Institution," prison spokeswoman Ann Howard said. "There may be more investigations opened."
The agency has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to spearhead an investigation into the death of Frank Smith, 44. He died of injuries Sept. 4 following a violent confrontation with corrections officers who were transporting him in a state prison vehicle from a hospital back to the prison.
Howard said the investigation involves "whether this was an excessive use of force."
The statement added: "We take the safety of inmates very seriously which is why we have asked FDLE to take over this case. The DOC administration has instructed all DOC personnel to fully comply with this investigation."
The Alachua County medical examiner's office said an autopsy on Smith would not be complete for up to three months.
Smith, described on the prison system's website as 5 feet 8 and 129 pounds, was near the end of a 16-year sentence for carjacking and other offenses.
Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker has declined to discuss the case, and prison officials have declined comment for three weeks, citing federal laws that protect the confidentiality of inmates' medical conditions.
But on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of Institutions Timothy Cannon announced lateral transfers of five Union personnel, including Warden Barry Reddish.
Also shifted to other prisons were two assistant wardens, Nan Jeffcoat and Mike Willis; Col. Ben Godwin; and Maj. Philip Jefferson.
The agency is holding a press conference today where Cannon will introduce the new Union warden, Diane Andrews, who has worked in the prison system for about 30 years.
It's the first time in more than a decade that prison officials have invited the media to meet a new warden.
Florida's prison system is the nation's third-largest and Union is one of its oldest and largest prisons. Opened in 1913, the prison is home to many death row inmates and is where most Floridians' car license tags are made.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.