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Inmates come to aid of Hillsborough jail deputy during attack

TAMPA — "I'm not scared of you," the inmate yelled as he grabbed the deputy's arms.

Deputy Cynthia Cummings was shocked. In her 10 years at Hillsborough's jails, she was used to talking down inmates.

"But this was quickly escalating," thought Cummings, 40.

She wrestled one hand away from Otis Gilbert, 42, and pressed a button on her radio that calls for backup.

But two people were faster: inmates Anthony McFarland and Roy Thomas Moore. They weren't about to let their pod supervisor get hurt.

"Not a woman, not Deputy Cummings," said McFarland. "She didn't deserve that."

On Friday, deputies touted the quick actions of Cummings and the two inmates on Nov. 19.

"Clearly without their intervention, she could have been hurt," said Col. Jim Previtera, commander of the county's jails.

The two inmates grabbed Gilbert and pushed him against a wall. Other deputies ran into the pod and handcuffed him.

It was over so fast, Cummings didn't notice who had helped her. But when she watched a surveillance video, she recognized the men.

She and her supervisors went back to the pod to thank them.

"It's always good to do some good for someone," McFarland said Friday.

The confrontation reminded jail staff of the 2009 attack on Deputy Kenneth Moon, who was put in a choke hold by an inmate.

Four deputies jumped in to help Moon and likely saved his life, the Sheriff's Office said. The story drew national attention.

Though Cummings wasn't injured, she said she could have been.

"It was a very violent situation," she said.

McFarland is in jail on charges of sexual battery, battery and false imprisonment. Previtera plans to write a letter of thanks, which he will give to the public defender's office.

The other inmate, Moore, is now out on bond and facing petty theft charges. He will also get a letter.

Meanwhile, Gilbert, who was in jail on an arson charge, is living in high-security confinement. He has not been charged in the deputy's attack.

At the Falkenburg Road Jail, one deputy watches 72 inmates in each pod. It seems like a daunting ratio, but the freedom of dorm-style pod life encourages good behavior and mutual respect, Previtera said.

The number of assaults on staff have declined in recent years, he said. There have been 27 so far this year, and there were 30 last year.

In 2007, there were 65 assaults; in 2008, 59; and in 2009, 29.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Inmates come to aid of Hillsborough jail deputy during attack 12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 9:22pm]
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