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Florida Prison Guard Indicted in Prisoner Death by Blunt Force Trauma

The charge stems from the death of prisoner Christopher Howell, 51, in June 2020. Howell was sent to Lake Correctional Institution (LCI) on February 20, 2019, to serve a four-year sentence for theft and robbery. He was scheduled for release on June 3, 2022.

Just six months into that sentence, Howell was allegedly beaten by Riley on June 18, 2020, for refusing to obey an order. Riley beat Howell as two guards stood by without intervening.

“This inmate was in hand restraints handcuffed behind his back,” said Keith Harris of the Florida Justice League. “He was so physically assaulted that day, and then … he was left in the conditions to die in his own waste.”

Howell was transported to a hospital in Orlando. He died on June 19, 2020, as a result of his injuries. Riley was placed on administrative leave after the incident and the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) began an investigation, which was taken over by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Riley, 27, who became a prison guard on March 22, 2019, was arrested on November 9, 2020. He was released on a $50,000 bond. His lack of experience is typical in the FDC. On average, Florida’s prison guards have less than two years’ experience. The starting pay is less than $34,000 annually, and many guards go to work in county jails after they complete the required service time to fulfill their law enforcement certification obligation.

Howell’s death may speak to a problem that goes beyond typical violence. LCI is a prison that houses prisoners with mental health problems. It contains a Crisis Stabilization Unit. Most of the prisoners housed at the prison receive psychiatric counseling and take psychotropic medication. The Florida Department of Corrections’ inability to retain guards impacts its ability to properly train guards and to have them gain the experience needed to deal with such special needs prisoners.

Riley faces a life sentence if convicted as charged. 


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