The Phoenix Flyer

Hillsborough lawmaker pushes to investigate inmate beatings in Florida prisons

By: - September 16, 2019 9:00 am

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In the wake of disturbing reports of abuse against inmates in Department of Corrections facilities, a Florida House Democrat is asking for a broad investigation into violence in Florida prisons.

Hillsborough County Rep. Susan Valdes says reports against prisoners at Lowell Correctional Institution near Ocala and Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont prompted her to request an investigation by the state House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee.

She contacted the chairman of the committee, Republican State Rep. Tom Leek, who represents part of Volusia County, about investigating the allegations of inmate abuse.

“I am troubled by recent reports about the conditions in some of our state facilities,” Valdes said in a statement. “The recent publicized incident at Lowell where an inmate was beaten to the point of paralysis and the numerous allegations of abusive behavior by guards suggests to me that this is a systemic problem that warrants a broader investigation of the prison system as a whole.”

In August, four corrections officers at Lowell allegedly beat Cheryl Weimar, a 51-year-old inmate who is now a quadriplegic and can only eat and breathe through the use of a tube. The incident is under investigation and the four officers have not been identified.

In July, a group of corrections officers were captured in YouTube footage, brutally beating a prisoner at Lake Correctional Institution. Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch called the video “deeply disturbing.” Four officers involved in that incident have been fired and arrested.

In another case, Carlton Hart, the ex-brother-in-law of Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart, was allegedly assaulted by four corrections officers in July at the Central Florida Reception Center in Orlando after he complained about an officer cutting him while removing plastic handcuffs from his wrists. He was being taken for a dental visit. That incident is still being investigated.

Rep. Valdes says she wants the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to investigate this issue “because I believe that would be our most effective tool to ensure a thorough, transparent review.”

The Florida Legislature is reconvening today for the start of fall committee weeks ahead of the 2020 legislative session. The Public Integrity & Ethics Committee is not scheduled to meet this week. However, officials from the Department of Corrections are scheduled to address a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday.

 

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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