Former officer at Charlotte Correctional Institution says recorded beating is ‘commonplace’

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Charlotte Correctional Institution officers are piled on top of prisoner Michel Hernandez, 37, in a cell May 25, 2020. (Credit: Miami Herald)

A former corrections officer at Charlotte Correctional Institution in Punta Gorda is speaking out about what happens inside those walls after WINK News reported on a violent beating.

We first showed you last week a leaked video from CCI showing officers pinning down a handcuffed inmate and beating him in his cell. The video obtained by the Miami Herald motivated a former CO to tell us more about what often happens inside those prison walls.

The man spoke to us on the condition of anonymity because he fears what he said could spark retaliation but felt he had to say something after he saw our report. He said video like the one we showed is rarely leaked but what happened in it is not rare at all – far from it.

“It was painful and disheartening,” the former CO said.

“They will say this is not what they condone; they do condone that kind of behavior, it’s commonplace.”

He said what happened in the video doesn’t surprise him; he saw it many times before in his five years at CCI.

“There’s a warden there who encourages that kind of behavior; there’s a major there that encourages that kind of behavior.”

By “that kind of behavior,” he means excessive force, and he said it’s especially common for inmates like 37-year-old Michael Hernandez, who was accused of biting and assaulting officers in Miami-Dade just before his transfer to Charlotte County.

“It is encouraged that they get back at the inmate for assaulting a staff member somewhere else. It’s almost an eye for an eye.”

The former officer said he recognizes what he sees in the video, when an officer punches the inmate, but we can’t see the inmate. He said it’s “still policy” to block the camera as much as possible.

“It’s a constant circle of madness,” he said. “The good officers are never going to be recognized and the bad officers are consistently recognized for doing such bad things.”

And that’s why the former CO spoke to WINK News. He believes 90 to 95% of corrections officers do the right thing for inmates and want to send them on the right track, but he also believes as long as people see this kind of video, COs will never get the respect or pay he feels they deserve.

The Department of Corrections said a Use of Force Unit reviewed the video, as did an independent law enforcement agency, and they found no fault with the officers due to the inmate’s actions.

Statement from DOC:

The Florida Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General’s Use of Force unit reviewed the incident, including the documentation, and it was approved due to the inmate’s actions. We have an independent law enforcement agency that reviews use of force for compliance. The work of the Florida Department of Corrections is difficult, and our staff face adverse and dangerous situations daily, where they must make split second decisions to protect themselves and protect the inmates. At times the use of physical force is necessary. The responsibility to use force is great, and we commit thousands of hours annually into the training and review of these actions. When our officers apply it incorrectly, we offer training, discipline, and in some cases, officers are dismissed or charged criminally.

The recordings made available to WINK News on-air were not made available for web.  

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