While it hasn’t made a lot of local news, there has been a rash of inmate deaths, many from non-natural causes. This past week, Reginald Davis passed away, authorities indicate he killed himself. This might not be noteworthy, except for the string of deaths at Charlotte Correctional Institute, just south of Punta Gorda. As of August, 2015, there were five inmate death investigations ongoing. That represents at least the seventh criminal investigation at CCI in recent years. One that did end in prosecution was the brutal beating and eye-gouging of an inmate that resulted in a federal conviction for a guard, William Wilson, a few years ago. Sadly, that incident made national news, not for the crime, but because the whistle-blower guard who reported it was framed and then fired after he testified for the government after the attack. He sued, and reached a settlement for $135,000.
There is also reason to be skeptical of the report that the inmate committed suicide. Just last year, authorities allege that Robert Peterkin hung himself in another suicide. However, his family thinks something more sinister occurred. Peterkin had just reported that contraband was possibly being smuggled into the facility. He was confined shortly after making the report, and was found dead 13 minutes later. However, he had made statements to his family prior to his death that lead them to be skeptical that he killed himself; statements that are ominous, in hindsight. “He said nothing will be like it appears to be,” his sister told the Bradenton Herald, and that he suggested they look closely at the prison.
The one death case that did indicate a murder by the guards was failed to be successfully prosecuted. Inmate Matthew Walker was brutally beaten to death by prison guards, and the medical examiner determined his death to have been a homicide at the hands of guards. Walker’s larynx was crushed and he sustained blows to his head, neck and torso. However, the grand jury did not indict, in part due to poor handling of the crime scene, and much of the evidence being mishandled or destroyed. The handling of the evidence suggested a cover up by prison employees.
Shockingly, one of the grand jurors was so baffled by the failure of prosecutors to make a stronger push for charges, she broke her oath of secrecy to come forward to express her disappointment in the failure to hold anyone accountable. “We all knew they were guilty and should have been prosecuted, but we were talked out of indicting them. This man was beaten to death,” Louise Salcedo said to reporters. She makes it sound as though prosecutors discouraged indictment due to the challenge of prosecuting the case, and that the grand jury wasn’t allowed to question several officers that were pulled from the witness list. Salcedo said that she, and other jurors, wanted to indict but were ultimately outvoted. Meanwhile, there is no justice for Walker’s homicide, even though investigators determined that five of the workers involved could have faced criminal charges. Instead, most of them were given their jobs back.
The latest death is one in a series of deaths under questionable circumstances in just a few years at Charlotte Correctional Institution. The loved ones of the deceased are still looking for answers.
The Miami Herald has done an extensive report on prison abuses.