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$195,000 Paid to Family of Slain Florida Prison Guard

by David M. Reutter

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has agreed to pay $195,000 to the family of murdered prison guard Darla Kay Lathrem, 38. PLN previously reported the incident. [See: PLN, April 2006, p.42].

Lathrem was killed during a failed escape on June 11, 2003. She had been assigned to supervise five prisoners who were renovating a dormitory at the Charlotte Correctional Institution. The renovation work was occurring on the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift, and the escape attempt occurred after dark.

Lathrem, armed only with pepper spray, was supervising the work crew alone. The three prisoners who were trying to escape, Dwight Eaglin, Stephen Smith and Michael Jones, killed her with a sledgehammer and severely beat the other two prisoners on the work crew, Charles Fuston and John Beaston. Fuston later died as a result of his injuries.

Eaglin was found between the facility?s two perimeter fences with a makeshift ladder; Smith and Jones were apprehended on the compound. Eaglin was convicted of murdering Lathrem and Fuston and sentenced to death. In a media interview he admitted to the crimes, and said he had killed Fuston because he was a snitch. Smith also received the death penalty, while Jones plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

The FDOC maintained that the prison had followed all required procedures and Lathrem?s death could not have been prevented. Those procedures, however, prohibited guards from being alone with prisoners who have tools, especially after dark. Further, the prison was understaffed at the time and two guards should have been assigned to the work crew.
The FDOC settled the case prior to trial in December 2006 for $195,000. The low settlement amount may be attributed to the fact that Lathrem was single and had no children. See: Lathrem v. Florida Department of Corrections, Charlotte County Circuit Court, Case No. XXX.

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Related legal case

Lathrem v. Florida Department of Corrections