Florida lawmakers respond to leaked video showing beatings in prison
Senses Jason Pizzo and Shevrin Jones of the state of South Florida joined Orlando House Rep. Dianne Hart on Friday in calling for meaningful prison reform after leaked images of a facility north of Fort Myers revealed the beating of a handcuffed inmate by five officers dressed in tactical gear.
The calls came the day after the Miami Herald published a special report on the handling of Michel Hernandez, who was held in handcuffs attached to his stomach with a chain, known as a “black box”, and leg irons, when he was repeatedly beaten by a team of beefy officers.
Although the use of force has been deemed appropriate by the Florida Department of Corrections, Other use of force experts and former Florida prison officials who reviewed the video as well as use of force reports concluded that the police used excessive force on Hernandez and described incorrectly what had precipitated the confrontation.
Hart, a Democrat who has visited prisons frequently since joining the Florida legislature in 2018, called for “the removal of all officers involved in this incident and anyone else who played a role in these abuses and this concealment ”.
“It is disheartening to hear about the incident after the incident of inmates being abused and mistreated at the hands of correctional officers,” Hart said. “It’s time for real structural changes to be made to the Florida Department of Corrections … to clean up the homes of those who seek to abuse their power and pass legislation that will create a true system of oversight and accountability within institutions.” prisons in our state.
As in most states, Florida prison officials are investigating much of their own alleged misconduct. The Corrections Department maintains that its Office of the Inspector General, “an independent law enforcement agency,” appropriately reviews any violence within its walls and disciplines officers who break policy or commit crimes.
But those with relatives in the Florida prison system have less confidence in the IG office, as do two of the state’s lawmakers who issued statements on Friday.
In Hernandez’s case, the OIG concluded that his manipulation did not violate policy despite reports from officers not matching the footage and despite several potential policy violations, as observed by former prison officials.
“It is appalling that the Department of Corrections found no policy violations or foul play in this video, which is full of unnecessary beating, kicking, kicking and kicking on a human being,” he said. said Jones, a Broward County Democrat. “Violent assaults on inmates are the most common type of abuse committed by correctional officers, and the excessive and unnecessary use of force by officers against a helpless person in this video is a terribly typical example. “
Pizzo, a Miami Democrat who is one of the lawmakers most involved in working with Corrections Department officials to improve training and staffing issues, said the video “sums up the reason for our attempts repeated to remedy it ”.
“I believe that some of the actions in this particular incident violate both the spirit and the protocol of interactions between staff and inmates,” Pizzo said.
On Friday, the Corrections Department did not respond to an email asking if Secretary Mark Inch had changed his mind about the beatings since his initial response. Earlier in the week, the department released a statement saying the use of force against Hernandez was “permitted due to the inmate’s actions,” but declined to give further details or answer any further questions.
Jones and Hart recalled the history of inmate beating by the Florida Department of Corrections. Less than two years ago, Cheryl Weimar, a 51-year-old woman with a mental illness, suffered such a severe beating she became quadriplegic.
At Lowell Correctional, a women’s prison near Ocala, Weimar was slammed into a concrete floor, cut in the neck, then dragged “like a rag doll” through the facility, where she was taken to the hospital. outside, away from the cameras, and assaulted almost to death. , according to its federal civil rights lawsuit.
Earlier that summer, Hart made his debut as a Florida House prison watchdog after the beating of Otis Miller, whose assault at Correctional Lake near Orlando was captured on a smuggled cell phone and uploaded to YouTube. Later, group chats disclosed revealed a culture of abuse at the prison, where officers exchanged jokes like “F — him” and “I want more lol” after assaulting Miller.
Lawmaker told the Herald that the first time she saw the Hernandez Tape, it instantly reminded her of Miller.
“Except that poor guy was handcuffed and shackled and everything,” Hart said of Hernandez. “Otis wasn’t chained or anything like that, but the way they beat him was pretty much the same. And my heart just bled, cause that’s the same reason we showed up at the lake [Correctional] two years ago.”