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Pinellas sheriff changes transport policy following investigation of detainee's beating

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the change is a “better practice.”

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the change is a “better practice.”

LARGO — An officer found Thomas Morrow drunk and asleep on a bench in Treasure Island last July.

Morrow hadn't committed a crime, but he was placed under protective custody because of his condition and was put into a Pinellas County Jail transport van occupied by a man who had.

A few miles from the jail, Morrow was beaten by the other detainee and sustained severe brain injuries, a collapsed lung and fractured ribs, authorities said. He remained hospitalized and bedridden until his death Sept. 12.

An internal affairs investigation related to Morrow's beating was released Thursday by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who said that criminal detainees and those under protective custody, such as Morrow, are no longer being confined together inside jail transport vans.

"I don't think there was anything wrong — illegal," Gualtieri said. "But in hindsight, probably the better practice when you have an extremely intoxicated person is it's probably best to transport them in a separate compartment."

The night of July 6, Morrow was placed in protective custody under the Marchman Act, a state law designed to help substance abusers who might be a danger to themselves or others.

An officer employed by G4S Secure Solutions, a private company under contract with the Sheriff's Office, placed Morrow on a bench inside the transport van.

That same night, Leonard David Lanni, 37, who was also drunk, was picked up on a charge of disorderly conduct in St. Pete Beach and put into the van with Morrow.

A few miles from the jail, Lanni began kicking Morrow, who had fallen from the bench, the Sheriff's Office said. After observing the beating on a monitor, the G4S driver, Andrey Izrailov, quickly pulled into a parking lot and asked two deputies there to restrain Lanni.

The Sheriff's Office internal affairs investigation revealed that Morrow fell off the bench and onto Lanni's foot, causing Lanni to become "enraged," the sheriff said. Lanni faces a second-degree murder charge and remains at the Pinellas County Jail awaiting trial.

The internal affairs investigation also uncovered a paperwork problem. G4S officers received training before they began driving jail transport vans for the Sheriff's Office in July. Each officer was supposed to turn in a checklist confirming they had received training in various aspects of the transport van job.

But the sheriff's supervisors assigned to provide the training, Sgt. Stacey Barrentine and Sgt. Kenneth Page, didn't collect all of the checklists, records show. On Thursday, they both received written reprimands.

Only about four of the roughly 20 G4S officers who received training turned in the papers. Izrailov was not one of them. Among the procedures noted on the checklist: Intoxicated detainees, if possible, should be buckled in. Seat belts inside the transport vans are zip-tied to prevent passengers from harming themselves or others, the sheriff said, but the ties can be cut in order to use the belts.

"Izrailov claims that while he was trained, he claims that he wasn't specifically instructed on the use of the seat belts," Gual­tieri said. "We think he was, and he says he wasn't."

After Morrow's beating, the Sheriff's Office instructed G4S officers to keep Marchman Act detainees separate from other detainees. The training paperwork also has been turned in.

At the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, spokesman Larry McKinnon said his agency's transport vans, which are driven by deputies, are compartmentalized. Those in custody under the Marchman Act are separated from other detainees.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is having separate compartments installed in the back of its vans at a cost of $1,500 per vehicle. About half of the roughly 24 vans have already been modified.

Izrailov still works as a transport van driver. G4S spokesman John Burke said Thursday that a full investigation was completed and "nothing warranting disciplinary action" against Izrailov was found.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Pinellas sheriff changes transport policy following investigation of detainee's beating 03/20/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2014 11:28pm]
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