By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A “disturbing trend” of the brutalization of inmates in Broward County’s jails has prompted Broward’s Public Defender to call for “a full and transparent investigation into how and why these incidents continue to happen.”
“I further request you conduct a review of the policies and procedures in place to ensure that any mistreatment of the men and women entrusted to your care does not go unnoticed,” Public Defender Gordon Weekes told Sheriff Gregory Tony in a letter in early May.
The letter is the latest in a series of missives Weekes has sent to the sheriff seeking the release of videos from jailhouse cameras after allegations of inmate abuse at the fists and feet of Broward detention deputies.
So far, Tony has refused stating “Our office maintains the position that all security system video is exempt from public record under provisions of Florida Statute 119.071(3). Again, you are keenly aware that the Broward Sheriff’s Office does not and cannot release these records, yet you continue to ask.”
Tony, however, neglected to note the statute also explicitly provides for the release of exempt confidential information, such as video from jail cameras, in several circumstances. For example, it “may be disclosed to another local, state or federal agency in furtherance of that agency’s official duties and responsibilities.”
Thus, Sheriff Tony could legally release the videos to the Public Defender’s Office if he wanted to.
“They don’t want eyes and ears in that jail. That screams of problems,” Weekes told Florida Bulldog.
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, NO FOOD
Weekes’ latest letter was prompted by the alleged beating of 38-year-old black inmate Freddie Lee Jones at the county’s main jail on March 17. Jones, of Opa-locka, was arrested by Pembroke Pines police on Sept. 27 and charged with a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief.
“Mr. Jones had been placed in solitary confinement for two days prior to the beating due to him being caught making inappropriate gestures to a female guard. While in solitary confinement, he was allegedly deprived of food for two days,’’ Weekes wrote.
“This inhumane treatment sparked an argument and led him to splash water outside his cell. In response, approximately nine deputies ran into his cell and allegedly began to brutally punch, kick and beat him. The witness to this incident did not know and or even get along with Mr. Jones but was so horrified and sickened by the way your guards were taking turns beating and kicking him while he laid on the floor, he immediately reported the incident. The eyewitness described his cell as being covered in blood, including the bed sheets and walls.”
The next day, Jones’s lawyer went to see him. Jones was brought down to the visitor’s area in a wheelchair. He had two black eyes, cuts on his forehead and under his eyes, a chipped tooth and a swollen foot. And Jones was unable to sit up in the wheelchair because his ribs were in too much pain from being kicked, Weekes told Sheriff Tony.
Jones’s sister, Nikki Jones, is a mental health administrator and caregiver for her brother. Her brother, she said, has been on psychiatric medications for decades. Police records show Freddie Jones spent time in at least two mental hospitals and has told police he sometimes hears “voices.”
Nikki Jones is outraged by what happened inside the Broward County Jail. “My brother was beaten half to death by 7-9 correction officers,” she said. “And we were never notified. There was so much blood he had to be rushed to Broward General. If it wasn’t for the surgeon there who showed Freddie a little mercy and allowed him to call his family, no one would have ever known this had happened.”
Jones said her brother told her the beating took place within view of cameras. She’s asked BSO for information but said the agency “has not been cooperative.”
VIDEO CAMERAS IN CELLS VIEW TOILETS
On May 17, BSO Undersheriff Col. Nichole Anderson responded to Weekes assertions, calling them “unsubstantiated” and informing him that an “active investigation” is underway. Anderson goes on in a condescending tone to “refresh” Weekes’ understanding of BSO’s use-of-force review process.
“Despite repeated explanations to you and your office about the disciplinary process, your letters continue to feign ignorance about that process,” Anderson wrote.
BSO records state there are 682 cameras inside the county’s four jails. They cover multiple angles where inmates are housed, including bird’s-eye, 360-degree views of housing units and individual cell doors. Cameras are even mounted inside cells, trained on beds and toilets.
With Freddie Jones as the most recent example, Weekes’ letter to Sheriff Tony goes on list a trio of deaths that he said “show a consistent pattern of neglect and misconduct towards the men and women held in your jail.”
“For example, in January of last year inmate K.D. [Kevin Desir] …was beaten by your staff while experiencing a mental health crisis. That beating left him in a chronic vegetative state on life support until he passed away a week after the incident., To date, you have refused to release the video of this incident,” Weekes wrote. (BSO’s media relations office did not respond to Florida Bulldog’s request to see video from the cameras before deadline.)
Desir had been arrested twice that month – once for criminal mischief and once for possession of marijuana. He was held at the North Broward Bureau jail in Pompano Beach. He was put there because the “primary mission of the facility is to house and manage the mentally ill, medically infirm and special needs inmate population,” according to BSO.
NO CAUSE OF DEATH, NO DISCIPLINE
On May 19, authorities released a Feb. 2 close-out memo written by Assistant State Attorney Christopher Killoran explaining his office’s decision not to charge any of the six detention deputies who grappled with Desir, a black man with a lengthy mental health history, as he was apparently experiencing a manic episode.
The report says Broward’s medical examiner could not establish what killed Desir, who suddenly became unconscious during the violent struggle. Killoran’s report relies heavily on his interpretation of video evidence from jail cameras – evidence the public has not been allowed to see.
Public Defender Weekes’ letter to the sheriff goes on, “This past December another inmate [Herbie Crussell] seemingly committed suicide while under your supervision. In that incident, a request was made to release the video of the incident for the sake of transparency. Your response to this request was defensive and not productive. Yet, to date no policies, training or oversight has been established to end mistreatment of inmates in your case. Simply, nothing has changed.”
Crussell, 43, was a white man. He’d been in jail following his arrest on a warrant for possession of ecstasy.
Inmate Joseph Williams was jailed for an attempted purse snatching in a Walmart parking lot in Tamarac. He was arrested on August 15, 2020 and later charged with attempted robbery and petty theft. He died in jail on Dec. 17, 2020.
“He was just 26 years old at the time of his death,” Weekes said in his letter to Tony. “He had a longstanding history of mental illness that would have been known to your staff. His mother had called the jail to express her concerns about her son’s history of mental illness and the fact that he had not been feeling well a few days before his death. Her pleas to have him seen by a doctor fell on deaf ears. He died very quickly after his mother began to advocate for his treatment.”
‘INDIFFERENCE AND BLAME SHIFTING’
Then there is the case of Nathaniel Calhoun, a 33-year-old black man held at the North Broward Bureau.
“In addition to these deaths, in July of last year, another mentally ill inmate was brutalized after he was accused of spitting at a deputy,” Weekes wrote. “The deputy, in anger, allegedly poured bleach or another toxic substance on (Calhoun) and into his cell as punishment. (Calhoun) was forced to inhale an absorb the toxic fumes – causing [his] hospitalization and treatment for poisoning, The response by your administration was more of the same indifference and shifting of blame for bringing our concerns to your attention.”
Weekes wrote to Tony that his staff has met with BSO staff to try and bring “the care and treatment” of inmates “to the forefront of your list of priorities. Unfortunately, the meetings have yet to yield results, rather your agency has moved to restrict video access for vulnerable clients who suffer from mental illness.”
Undersheriff Anderson’s reply letter says BSO has acted properly.
“Your letter states that there is some ‘pattern of neglect and misconduct’ that occurs in the jail citing four unrelated incidents and repeating unsubstantiated allegations as fact. You state that when you brought these matters to BSO’s attention that the response you received was ‘more of the same indifference and shifting of blame.’
“The responses you have received from BSO consistently cite the need for BSO to complete the investigative process, and the need for dialogue rather than finger pointing. As noted above, failure to follow the law while investigating allegations that might lead to employee discipline jeopardizes the ability to discipline if misconduct is found. This is not ‘indifference’ or ‘shifting of blame,’ but a statutory obligation that BSO is not free to ignore simply because you would prefer to have information immediately.”