Sunday, June 17, 2018
Public safety

Florida prison guards seize weapons, cellphones as statewide lockdown enters day 3

MIAMI — The unrest continued for a third day at Florida state prisons, as corrections officers — some of them armed — staged a show of force in an attempt to stave off an unspecified threat of violence this weekend.

All 148 prison facilities remained on lockdown Friday, and all able-bodied administrators and officers, including new cadets and probation and parole officers, were ordered to report to the state's dangerously understaffed institutions.

Shakedowns, or searches, of nearly every dorm in every prison were under way, and officers seized a number of weapons and other contraband, such as cellphones, authorities said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida's 97,000 prison inmates confined through the weekend

"It's almost like we're in hurricane mode. All days off have been canceled, it's all hands on deck and they are going corner to corner of every prison to do shakedowns," said John Rivera, president of the state Police Benevolent Association, the union representing corrections, probation and parole officers.

There were some minor "incidents" overnight, at Holmes Correctional Institution and the Reception Medical Center, said Michelle Glady, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

"Some inmates are unhappy," Glady said, adding there were no reports of injuries or damage.

The agency said little about the exact nature of the threats that prompted the first statewide lockdown in memory. Veteran corrections officers — some of whom have worked for the department for decades — told the Herald that they've never seen anything like it during their careers.

On a Facebook forum, several officers expressed concerns.

"Please everyone tonight say a little prayer for our FDOC families. We are stretch(ed) out on OT (overtime) and we need all the prayer's(sic) we can get," one wrote.

So far, the department has said only that the lockdowns were sparked by "credible intelligence" that "small groups of inmates" were planning "disruptions."

Rivera said the show of force was likely in response to a direct threat against the lives of corrections officers.

"They are being super tight-lipped. We are only being told they have credible information about a statewide uprising to attack corrections officers," he said.

"Assuming that's true, I'm hoping they are using sound reasoning because our officers are physically tired. Even before this lockdown, they couldn't get days off, and so they are exhausted. The body can only handle so much," Rivera said.

FDC's intelligence division received information that the threats may be timed to coincide with the "Millions for Prisoners' Human Rights" rally on Saturday in Washington, D.C. The loosely organized event is being billed on social media as a way to raise awareness about mass incarceration and human rights violations in prisons across the country.

But the event has received no media attention and very little publicity on the Internet. The department has also not been forthcoming about the restrictions that have been placed on its 97,000 inmates.

Glady initially said on Wednesday that no "basic privileges" would be affected, other than visitation. However, on Thursday, the Miami Herald learned that state prisons were on lockdown — and that all educational, vocational, rehabilitation, ministry and recreation programs had been scrubbed until further notice. Inmates are confined to their dorms, except at mealtime, FDC officials confirmed Thursday.

Violence among inmates — especially those in gangs — is at an all-time high in Florida prisons. Corrections officers have been stabbed and beaten, and prisoners have been killed in several clashes over the past several months.

"Florida needs to focus on why as a response it needs to lock down its prisons - too many prisoners serving far too long sentences, too few programs and inadequate staff, and too many who are mentally disabled," said Randall Berg, executive director and attorney at the Florida Justice Institute, which has successfully sued the agency for human rights abuses.

"Until Florida gets smart, we will continue to waste tax dollars on corrections which are needed elsewhere," he said.

Florida is the nation's third-largest prison system, behind California and Texas. FDC has 148 facilities, a budget of $2.4 billion, and a larger staff than any other state agency.

But staffing has been on critical levels for more than a year. Officers have been forced to work extensive overtime, costing the state $60 million a year.

Ron McAndrew, a prison consultant and former warden, said the lockdown isn't going to prevent tension — and may exacerbate it. Florida prisons do not have air conditioning, he pointed out.

"The summer, it gets so damn hot," he said. "Imagine if you had to sleep in your bedroom or stay in your home, locked in without any air conditioning — try it for one night. You would not be able to sleep."

Contact Julie K. Brown at [email protected]

Comments
Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

NEW PORT RICHEY — A motorcyclist and pedestrian both died in a crash Saturday night near Palmetto Road and U.S. 19, police reported.About 10:30 p.m., a St. Petersburg man, 41, was riding a 2012 Honda motorcycle north on the highway, according to the ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

TRENTON, N.J — Shooting broke out at an all-night art festival in Trenton, New Jersey, early Sunday, sending people stampeding from the scene and leaving one suspect dead and 20 people injured, a local prosecutor said. Many of the 20 injured were tre...
Published: 06/17/18
Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market will be closed throughout the weekend after a warehouse fire broke out Friday.A St. Petersburg Police officer noticed smoke coming from the market at 22nd Ave. N around midnight Friday, said St. Petersburg F...
Published: 06/16/18
A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

TAMPA — Loueita Hargens had known for years how her son Bradley Dykes would die. She had seen him cycle through drugs of choice, had lost track of the number of times he’d wound up in the hospital or prison.A recovering alcoholic herself, she cut him...
Published: 06/16/18
Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies identified a body found in Frierson Lakes in Hudson on Thursday as a 74-year-old New Port Richey man.Kress Luebke’s kayak was seen overturned in the water on Thursday night, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.A resident living along Fri...
Updated: 7 hours ago
St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a 31-year-old sexual assault case and believe he’s connected to other unsolved cases from decades ago.Anthony Stokes, 56, faces a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Peters...
Published: 06/15/18
Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

ODESSA — One day in the summer of 2014, Helen Rich spotted a Facebook post about an aging black Labrador in Kansas named Lady who badly needed a new home. The author and heir to the Wrigley gum fortune had recently lost her own Black lab. Rich decide...
Published: 06/15/18
Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

Hillsborough Hispanic women targeted in lottery scam

TAMPA — Maria Pena-Lebron, 83, was walking out of Fresco y Mas with her groceries in May when she was approached by a woman wearing a straw hat, who pleaded with her for help. The stranger claimed to be an undocumented immigrant and therefore unable ...
Published: 06/15/18
Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

TAMPA — Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Jeremy Finney was, by all accounts, a model firefighter — until he lost his cool. The outburst cost him two ranks.Finney has served nearly 16 years in the department and was a member of the Tactical Medical Response Te...
Published: 06/15/18
Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

DAYTONA BEACH — Two roller coaster riders fell 34 feet (10 meters) when their car derailed and was left dangling from the track, and firefighters used ladders to pull eight others to safety high above the Daytona Beach Boardwalk. "The front car which...
Published: 06/15/18