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Prisons chief suspends two guards over inmate collapse

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

dreadDepartment of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil suspended two prison guards involved in the collapse of 20-year-old inmate Samuel Dread who remains in critical condition after exercising on Monday.

McNeil placed correctional officers Sgt. Michael Devanie and James Barry on administrative leave with pay after learning of “conflicting witness statements,” according to a press release issued by McNeil’s office this morning.

Dread collapsed after exercising for several hours in the 86 degree heat as part of an extended day program at Lancaster Correctional Institution near Gainesville on Monday, his first day at the boot-camp style program for youthful offenders. Dread remains in critical condition after being placed into a medically-induced coma.

“Out of an abundance of caution, I have placed these officers on administrative leave until this issue is resolved. The mission of this department is public safety, and that includes the safety of our 102,000 inmates, a responsibility I take very seriously,” said McNeil. “If any wrongdoing has occurred, appropriate, swift action will be taken. In the meantime, these officers will have no further contact with inmates.”

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the incident, saying there are questions about whether prescription medications Dread was taking required him to avoid extreme heat.

“I have every assurance that the investigation will be thorough and complete and at the conclusion we’ll know all the facts in this case,” McNeil said in a statement.

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UPDATE: Young inmate collapses after exercise, prison officials investigating

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Charlie Crist’s office asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the collapse of the inmate, identified as 20-year-old Samuel Dread.

An inmate is in critical condition after collapsing on Monday during exercises at Lancaster Correctional Institution near Gainesville, Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil told reporters at a hastily-scheduled press conference early this morning.

The unidentified inmate, a male between the ages of 18 and 24, collapsed on his first day at the youthful offender facility which uses a boot-camp style program in which inmates exercise outdoors from early in the morning until nightfall, DOC officials said.

McNeil said he asked the agency’s inspector general to investigate the incident and that the inmate is now in a private hospital in critical condition. He also said he is considering changing the department’s policy requiring strenuous exercise in extreme heat.

The department’s response to the incident is a departure from the 2006 death of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old who collapsed and died after being beaten by guards after collapsing during exercises on his first day at the now-defunct Bay County Boot Camp in the Panhandle.


Deal struck on private prisons

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

After intense opposition to a prison privatization plan linked to disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom and slipped into the budget late last week, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander has apparently backed off his proposal to shut down up to three prisons and outsource another.

Alexander’s plan drew allegations of foul play from the Police Benevolent Association, the powerful union that represents prison guards and frequently backs GOP candidates, and Gov. Charlie Crist’s Secretary of Corrections Walt McNeil.

The privatization plan would have shut down enough prisons to fill the Blackwater facility in the Panhandle that the state hired Boca Raton-based Geo Group Inc. to build and operate. But the prison population hasn’t grown as anticipated and there aren’t enough inmates to fill the 2,224-bed Blackwater without shutting down other state-run prisons and putting guards out of work.

McNeil said Friday he would have to shut down five prisons and let inmates out early to comply with a federal court order under the Senate’s proposal that would cut about $60 million in salaries.

Under the new plan, expected to be introduced as a budget amendment today by Democratic Leader Al Lawson, the department would gradually fill Blackwater by closing 17 dorms in other prisons, something McNeil favors.

Critics of the proposal also filed complaints with State Attorney Willie Meggs and U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin, both in Leon County, alleging that the Blackwater deal was done in secrecy and questioning Sansom’s association with it. Sansom put the original $110 million to the build the prison into the 2008 budget in a floor amendment and tried to guarantee that it would be built as an annex to the Graceville prison that Geo operates.

UPDATE: Prisons chief asks FBI to investigate inmate beating

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

homepage-mcneilFlorida Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigations to join state law enforcement officials investigating the weekend beating of an inmate by prison guards at Union Correction Institution in Raiford.

McNeil revealed little about the nature of the 47-year-old inmate’s injuries other than that they are “serious” but did not know if they were life-threatening. The unnamed inmate remains in the hospital, McNeil said.

Four guards took removed the inmate from his cell on Saturday after he threw feces at them, McNeil said. On Monday morning, another prison worker reported the injuries.

McNeil fired four nurses and placed seven correctional officers on paid leave. He said he asked the FBI to investigate because of possible civil rights violations.

The beatings are the latest in a string of attacks on inmates by prison guards at UCI and neighboring Florida State Prison in Starke.

But McNeil said he doubts there is a systemic problem in the prison system.

“There is never an excuse for this type of behavior. What you’re seeing is a manifestation of persons that don’t have that kind of self-control that they need to,” he said.

Four DOC nurses fired, seven guards suspended after two-day inmate beating

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

State prison officials fired four nurses and put seven guards on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a brutal attack over the weekend of a Union Correctional Institution inmate.

The nurses were fired for failing to report the beatings that took place over two days, which another employee reported. One of the nurses was a state corrections employee and three others were contract workers.

The 47-year old unidentified inmate “has multiple injuries and is being treated at an outside hospital,” a press release issued late last night by Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil said.

McNeil is holding a press conference at 11:15 to discuss the beatings.

“I intend to bring the full resources of this agency to bear on the individuals responsible for this violent assault, including prosecution, termination and decertification, so they can never work in a correctional environment again. There is no place in our profession for this depraved mindset,” McNeil said in the statement.

The weekend attack is the latest in a string of attacks by guards on inmates at the prison in Raiford or nearby Florida State Prison in Starke.

In June a DOC FSP guard was arrested after being captured on videotape beating an inmate during a power outage. Eleven other employees were involved in that attack.

Four UCI prison officers were fired after an April 9 beating of an inmate. That incident remains under investigation.

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