Three Florida prison guards have been arrested and charged in the December 16, 2008 beating of a handcuffed prisoner at the Charlotte Correctional Institution (CCI). The criminal proceedings can be viewed as a fulfillment of Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) Secretary Walter McNeil’s vow to prosecute rogue employees. [See: PLN, Dec. 2009, p.22].
Absent the submission of an incident report by a nurse, the beating of prisoner Jerome Williams, 23, would have gone unnoticed as a standard use of force. The combination of the guards’ falsified reports and their intimidation of Williams with the threat of future assaults is typical of such incidents.
What the guards did not count on was nurse Maryann Henry ignoring an admonition to “[b]e careful what you say and write because there are officers here that will find out where you live and what you drive.” Initially, Henry gave a witness statement that did not mention the beating. The next day, however, she broke the “code of silence” by filing a report with CCI’s colonel, which triggered an internal investigation.
Williams was having mental health issues on the night of the assault; a psychological emergency was declared, which guards ignored. To get their attention, Williams tied a noose around his neck that was attached to an air vent. Guard David Lee Cox said he would call a nurse. A few minutes later, Sgt. William G. Langenbrunner came to Williams’ cell door.
Langenbrunner was angry, calling Williams an “asshole” and “fuckboy.” Williams replied with a few obscenities of his own. Because CCI is a segregated close-management prison, Williams was handcuffed behind his back to be taken to a shower while awaiting the nurse.
When Henry arrived, Williams was moved to a medical examination room. After taking his vital signs she asked him what his problem was. He replied that he had feelings of hurting himself and had told the “sarge,” who “didn’t give a fuck.” He looked at Langenbrunner and said, “You don’t give a fuck, do you sarge?”
Langenbrunner responded, “OK, that’s it. This is over.” He then grabbed Williams, and he and Cox tackled him to the floor. Both guards then began punching Williams while he was handcuffed. One of them told Henry to “get the fuck out,” which she did.
Guards in the control room noticed the ruckus and signaled an alarm for assistance. Sgt. Ryan Rhodes and guards Shaun Oppe and Clint Pignatare arrived. Pignatare was instructed to retrieve a video camera to record the incident. Langenbrunner reportedly stated, “Hey Oppe, come and get some.”
Oppe went over to Williams and said, “You made me run down here for no reason motherfucker.” Langenbrunner replied, “Go ahead and get some shots in before the captain gets here.” Oppe then kicked Williams in the groin and legs. After the captain arrived, Williams was treated for a laceration and severe swelling of his right eye, swelling to his lips and cheek, bruises and scratches on his face and forehead, bruising to his left upper shoulder and back area, and a minor laceration of his inner right thigh.
Langenbrunner took charge of the cover-up, telling control room guard Christy Sturtevant in an intimidating manner that she “didn’t see anything.” He also told Pignatare that “our stories have got to match.” A few days after the incident, Pignatare informed Oppe that he needed to go to the warden’s office to come clean.
Oppe, however, had confidence in his union, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), replying “the PBA’s gonna have that nurse’s ass.” He apparently based his comment on prior experience; in the past, the Police Benevolent Association had provided counsel to FDOC guards that resulted in acquittals on homicide charges in the murder of Florida death row prisoner Frank Valdes. [See: PLN, Aug. 2002, p.12; Jan. 2001, p.6].
Following the FDOC’s investigation, Langenbrunner, Cox and Oppe were fired. All three were charged in March and April 2009 with felony battery on a prisoner with malicious or great bodily harm, and misdemeanor fraud for filing false reports. The only question now is whether convictions will be obtained.
Sources: FDOC Office of the Inspector General, Report No. 08-54466; WINK News; Charlotte Sun-Herald
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