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Federal Lawsuit, Criminal Charges Follow Beating of Prisoners In Florida Jail

The repeated beating of a prisoner at the DeSoto County Jail in Florida has resulted in some serious consequences: a $3.5 million federal lawsuit, criminal charges against the jail guards, and the firings and a resignation of at least five of the guards.

The lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida on March 7, 2014 alleges that DeSoto County Sheriff's Office personnel beat Jody Holland on several occasions.  The beatings were alleged to have been inflicted by several deputies after Holland was jailed for a domestic dispute with his then-fiancee, Christine Routson, a nurse at the jail.

The suit alleges that officers used excessive force and filed false battery charges against Holland, charges that were later dropped.

Federal investigators said a widespread cover-up followed the attacks on Holland, and six DeSoto employees were charged with covering up the beating and lying to FBI agents investigating the assaults.  Sheriff William Wise is named as a defendant in the civil suit, as are the officers personally involved in the beating and cover-up.

The case first drew attention by the local media when Holland's family told reporters that they believed he would be killed if he was returned to the DeSoto County Jail from another jail.

When a local newspaper contacted Sheriff's officials about Holland's injuries, which included purple bruises all over his head, those officials said that they had no knowledge of a use of force against Holland.  Sheriff's Major Sam Williamson initially said that Holland's injuries might have been self-inflicted.  Holland had been "pressing on his head and rubbing his head very hard," Williamson told a reporter.

After press attention exposed the story of Holland's apparent beatings, Sheriff Wise launched an investigation but refused to comply with a public records request for video of the assaults.

When federal agents stepped in, jail officials lied about the attacks and altered reports.  The former commander of the jail, Raymond Kugler, resigned and was sentenced to three years’ probation by U.S. District Judge John Steele.  Kugler refused to send Holland to an outside hospital and lied to the FBI about it.  Judge Steele explained, "If he had just told the truth to investigators, he wouldn't be here."  Kugler was spared prison time because of his "clean record" and because he didn't actually participate in the beatings of Holland, said Judge Steele.  Kugler said he was sorry for disappointing his family, but did not apologize to Holland directly.

Deputy Rizza remains awaiting trial in federal court.  Former Deputy Vincent Carlucci awaits sentencing.


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