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Florida OKs $4.65 million payout for beating by staff that paralyzed inmate Cheryl Weimar

On Tuesday, a woman brutally beaten by guards at Lowell Correctional Institution was paid $4.65 million by Florida, possibly the largest such settlement from the state of Florida.
Cheryl Weimar, before she was sent to Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution, where she endured a near-fatal beating by staff.
Cheryl Weimar, before she was sent to Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution, where she endured a near-fatal beating by staff. [ Special to the Miami Herald ]
Published Aug. 26, 2020

Cheryl Weimar’s name is known in prison circles as an example of the few rights and little dignity inmates have in the Florida prison system. Weimar, 51, was brutally attacked by guards at Lowell Correctional Institution and paralyzed as a result.

For the past year, Weimar has remained in prison, bound to a special hospital bed and dependent on catheters, mechanical breathing assistance, a tracheostomy and feeding tubes. Meanwhile, her attorneys were building a federal civil rights lawsuit on her behalf.

On Tuesday, Weimar’s case was ordered closed. According to a settlement agreement provided to the Miami Herald by the Department of Financial Services, she will be paid $4.65 million, possibly the largest such settlement from the state of Florida. The family of Darren Rainey, the 50-year-old inmate with schizophrenia whose death in a rigged shower at Dade Correctional Institution led to sweeping reform, settled for $4.5 million.

A U.S. district judge signed an order Tuesday asking the clerk to close Weimar’s case. The settlement agreement was signed by both parties on Aug. 6. Weimar was scheduled to be released in October, but that release has been expedited.

Weimar’s neck and spinal cord were broken in the August 2019 attack, which happened while she was on prison work duty at Lowell Correctional Institution. Officers ordered her to get on her knees and scrub a toilet but Weimar, who had a hip condition, complained that she was in pain and said she was unable to do the task.

The officers became confrontational with Weimar after she declared a mental health emergency, therefore requiring medical personnel to get involved. The confrontation triggered a psychological episode requiring medical intervention, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf. Weimar had been serving time since January 2016 on a domestic violence-related charge. She has a history of mental and physical disabilities.

The officers allegedly slammed Weimar to the ground and beat her, breaking her neck, the lawsuit says. They dragged her “like a rag doll” across the prison as her head bounced on the hard ground. They continued to beat her in an area outside the view of surveillance cameras, the suit says. She was handcuffed throughout the attack, the suit says.

A distraught prison nurse told a 911 dispatcher an ambulance was needed immediately because Weimar was barely breathing.

After initially being treated at a hospital and having surgery, Weimar was sent back to the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala, where she has been incarcerated since. The attack remains under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Lawyer Ryan Andrews filed the federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Weimar in September 2019. The suit was also brought by Weimar’s husband, Karl Weimar, against the four involved officers, as well as the state Department of Corrections.

The road to the settlement has not been the smoothest. In October 2019, the Florida Department of Corrections allegedly tried to dodge the costs of her medical care by releasing her from their custody, according to a petition from her lawyers. The lawsuit said department representatives intimidated and coerced Weimar into signing documents she didn’t understand, and signing over her disability benefits.

And more recently, Weimar was denied a COVID-19 test after being exposed, her lawyers wrote in a motion in her existing case against the state. One of her assigned night nurses wrote in a sworn affidavit that security staff allowed the doors to negative pressure entryways connecting cells of COVID-positive inmates to be opened for at least 45 minutes, exposing employees and inmates to the disease. Weimar’s hospital bed is less than 50 feet from the door.

“Cheryl has had tragic things happen in her life that most people never experience.” Andrews, her lawyer, said. “She wants to live the rest of her life in peace and how, thanks to the reasonable resolution of this case, she can obtain the medical care she will need as a result of this horrific event.”

Just two of the involved officers were named in the pleadings: Keith Turner and Ryan Dionne. Turner was arrested in November on charges of sexual battery and child molestation unrelated to Weimar’s case. Over the years he was promoted from officer to sergeant to lieutenant despite a slew of accusations of harassing, kissing and groping inmates and dousing them with chemicals, the Miami Herald reported.

Dionne has an arrest record describing an incident of domestic violence while off duty. He claimed self-defense, but was determined to be the aggressor and arrested. The case was dropped. Turner was dismissed from the department in November. Dionne remains employed by the department.