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Gov Scott Gives Take On Probe Into Inmate Death, Use Of Excessive Force In Prisons

A total of 11 correctional employees who work at Union Correctional Institution have now been suspended. That’s after a further probe into an ongoing investigation over the possible use of excessive force on several inmates, including one who died at the facility.

Just days ago, the Florida Department of Corrections suspended five of its correctional officers working at Union Correctional Institution, including the Assistant Warden Nan Jeffcoat.

The department also transferred Diane Andrews from her role as the warden at Madison Correctional Institution and made her the new warden of the north Florida prison. She replaced Barry Reddish, who is now working at another prison in Raiford.

The moves are a result of an internal investigation by the department over the possible use of excessive force by correctional officers. At least six inmates could be involved, including one who died at Union Correctional. Currently, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has taken over the investigation, and due to recent findings, more people have been placed on administrative leave with pay, bringing the total to 11.

“I think all of us want to make sure that anybody that’s in one of our prisons is treated with respect and they’re safe. That’s all of our goal," said Governor Rick Scott Tuesday. "So, anything happens whether it’s a death or an injury in our prison, it needs to be taken seriously."

Scott says the Florida Department of Corrections is taking what he thinks is the right course of action.

“The Department of Corrections 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. "Number one: We’re going to find out if somebody there did something wrong, and Number two: 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 recent 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," said Cannon. "We take our very mission seriously and we will not tolerate any 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. The department has confirmed Frank Smith is the name of the dead inmate. He had served most of a 16-year prison sentence for carjacking and assault convictions.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.