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More Officers Suspended as Prison Abuse Probe Continues

Photo: Union Correctional Institution, Florida DOC
Photo: Union Correctional Institution, Florida DOC

October 10, 2012 | WMFE - A total of eleven correctional employees at north Florida's Union Correctional Institution have been suspended in an ongoing investigation into the possible use of excessive force. One of the inmates who was allegedly abused, died while in custody at the prison.

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Late last week, the state Department of Corrections suspended five of its correctional officers working at Union Correctional Institution, including Assistant Warden Nan Jeffcoat. 

The department also transferred Diane Andrews from her role as warden at Madison Correctional Institution to take over as warden of Union Correctional. She replaced Barry Reddish who previously left Union Correctional and is now working at another state prison in north Florida.

The suspensions are the result of an internal investigation into the possible use of excessive force by corrections personnel. The officers are all on paid leave pending the results of the investigation, which is being led by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement along with the DOC.

At least six inmates could be involved, including one who died at Union Correctional.

The DOC has identified the dead inmate as 44-year-old Frank Smith. Smith had served most of a 16-year sentence for carjacking and assault in Miami-Dade County. 

The DOC released a statement saying the staff members have been placed on leave to “ensure the integrity of the investigations.”

Governor Rick Scott says sayshe thinks the department is doing the right thing. “They’ve changed out the leadership there and there’s an investigation and we’ll see what happens as they go through the investigation.” Scott said. “We’re going to find out if somebody there did something wrong, and if there’s something systemic, then we can fix that because we want to make sure that everybody who’s in a prison in our state is safe.”

In a press conference at the prison, Assistant Secretary of Institutions Tim Cannon addressed some of the questions raised regarding the probe. If the investigation reveals officers were involved in using excessive force, Cannon says, their actions do not represent the majority of the officers who work in Florida’s prisons.

“To carry out our mission, it sometimes necessary to use physical force. However, force should only be used when absolutely necessary and strict compliance with our rules.” Cannon said. “We take our mission very seriously and we will not tolerate actions by any members of this agency contrary to this mission. Incidents like this cannot be allowed to dishonor the reputation of thousands of correctional officers who go in harm’s way to protect the public.”

So far, all the inmates named in the incidents are black males ranging from the ages of mid-twenties to late sixties, and one inmate, Willie Knight, was released in August of this year. 


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