CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating the beating of a man by another inmate Saturday night inside a transport van on its way to the jail, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday.
The van was being driven by an employee of G4S Secure Solutions, a private security company that has worked for the Sheriff's Office for six years. The company has provided security services at various locations, including the county courthouse in Clearwater and at Safe Harbor, a homeless shelter overseen by the Sheriff's Office.
About three years ago, the company also began transporting inmates to jails and prison facilities for the Sheriff's Office. It has transported more than 30,000 inmates during that time, Gualtieri said.
And on July 1, G4S employees replaced 22 deputies who had worked full time driving transport vans, freeing up those deputies to work on "appropriate law enforcement work," Gualtieri said. The contract with G4S saves the agency about $4 million annually, he said.
On Saturday night, an inmate transport van picked up Thomas Morrow, 59, after he was taken into custody in Treasure Island under the Marchman Act.
The van then stopped in St. Pete Beach to pick up Leonard David Lanni Jr., 36, who was arrested and accused of disorderly conduct after he pushed guests and guards at the Sirata Beach Resort at 5300 Gulf Blvd., authorities said.
Morrow and Lanni, both drunk, were the only passengers in the Chevrolet van heading to the Pinellas County Jail. Both were handcuffed and shackled, but they were not secured to the inside of the van.
About 3 miles from the jail, the driver glanced at the live monitor that displays the passenger compartment of the van and noticed that Morrow had fallen from the bench.
Within moments, Lanni began to kick him, Gualtieri said.
The driver pulled into a parking lot and asked two deputies for help. They restrained Lanni. Morrow sustained a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung and extensive head injuries, Gualtieri said. An arrest affidavit showed he also had fractured ribs and cuts.
Morrow of Treasure Island was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where his spleen was removed, according to the affidavit. Morrow's condition was not available Monday evening, but Gualtieri said the injuries were considered life-threatening.
Morrow's family could not be reached for comment Monday. Gualtieri said Morrow, an alcoholic, was having marital problems.
Lanni of St. Pete Beach faces an aggravated battery charge in the attack. He remained at the Pinellas County jail Monday in lieu of $20,150 bail.
Gualtieri said this was the first incident of its kind in a Sheriff's Office inmate transport van and wasn't indicative of a problem with using a private transport company.
"I don't consider it an issue," Gualtieri said. "This is nothing to do with G4S. … It's irrelevant whether G4S or a deputy was driving the van."
G4S released few details about Saturday's incident but said through spokeswoman Monica Lewman-Garcia that the company "is fully cooperating with the PCSO in its investigation."
"Everybody was properly secured and handcuffed," Gualtieri said. "It just happened all of a sudden, out of the blue. This guy just started attacking Morrow."
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.