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Still No Charges in 2017 Homicide of Florida Prisoner Paralyzed During Guard Beat-Down

by Jo Ellen Nott

It’s been five years since Florida prison guards broke Craig Ridley’s neck and then denied him treatment for five days. He eventually died, and his death was ruled a homicide. But no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Ridley, 62, died on October 12, 2017, just over a month after guards broke his neck on September 8, 2017. Over the next five days, records show that prison staff walked past his cell at least 173 times, ignoring his calls for help. The U.S. Army veteran suffered a slow and painful death before succumbing to his injuries.    

Known as a quiet prisoner who liked to play chess and run, Ridley would have been eligible for release in 2025. At the time he was beaten, he was working in the kitchen at the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) Reception and Medical Center, while serving a 20-year mandatory-minimum sentence for attempted murder. On that September day in 2017, an altercation occurred, and Ridley was tackled to the ground face-first by DOC guard Cpt. William Jerrells, resulting in a dislocated neck.

“My neck is broke[n],” Ridley called to the guard. “I'm paralyzed.”

The Miami Herald was able to gain access to a 383-page report which revealed that a guard accused Ridley of “bullshitting” and said, “[Y]ou're just trying to get a lawsuit.”

After a short medical exam, guards put Ridley on the toilet of a solitary confinement cell. But without control of his spine, he soon fell off and broke his nose. Another prisoner called repeatedly for help, but he was ignored. Eventually a prison doctor examined Ridley, but he claimed the prisoner was not injured.

“For five days I watch[ed] them starve him,” Ridley’s cellmate Moises Cherette wrote to state Department of Law Enforcement investigators. “[T]hey ain't feed him or nothing … every time they stop [buy,] he tell[s] them that he can’t move [but] the nurse laugh[s] an[d] make[s] jokes and keep[s] going.”

On September 12, 2017, guard Jesse Mallard alerted prison staff that something was wrong with how Ridley was behaving. Ridley was seen a second time by prison doctors, who then sent him to Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville. There he had to be intubated. When he died a month later, the medical examiner ruled it a homicide: The cause of death was blunt impact to the head and neck, spinal cord injury and complications from quadriplegia. Yet state and federal have prosecutors brought no criminal charges in the case.

Ridley’s death marks the third time in recent years that guards in Florida prisons have broken a prisoner’s necks during a beat-down. In August 2019, Lowell Correctional Institution guards snapped the spine of prisoner Cheryl Weimar, 51, leaving her quadriplegic. In June 2020, Lake Correctional Institution guard Michael Raymond Riley beat prisoner Christopher Howell, also 51, while he was handcuffed. He died of his injuries the next day. Riley, 27, was charged with murder in November 2020. No charges were filed in Weimar’s death, but her estate won a $4.65 million settlement from DOC in August 2020. [See: PLN, Feb. 2021, p.58.]

Ridley’s sister told the Miami Herald, “This was an inhumane death caused by an abysmal lack of medical treatment, it was torture.”

Sources:  Atlanta Black Star, Daily Mail, Miami Herald, Reason  

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