Prisons

Lawsuit: Savage Beating by Guards at Florida Women's Prison Leaves Inmate Paralyzed

Cheryl Weimer, 51, is now a quadriplegic after what a lawsuit describes as a "malicious and sadistic beating" by Florida prison guards.

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A brutal beating by four guards inside Florida's largest women's prison has left a woman with a history of mental illness paralyzed for life, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit offers the first concrete allegations of what inmates have described as a vicious attack by correctional officers on Cheryl Weimar, a 51-year-old inmate at the state's Lowell Correctional Institution who has been hospitalized since Aug. 21.

On Aug. 21, Weimar complained to a guard that she couldn't clean toilets because of pain from a pre-existing hip condition. This led to a confrontation with four Lowell correctional officers. Weimar, who has a history of mental illness, tried to declare a psychological emergency. Under department policy, the guards should have called for medical personnel.

Instead, the lawsuit alleges, the guards slammed her to the ground and began beating her. At least one guard elbowed the back of her neck, the suit says. Guards then dragged Weimar "like a rag doll" to an area not covered by surveillance cameras and continued beating her nearly to death.

"This malicious and sadistic beating of the defenseless Plaintiff Cheryl Weimar by the four John Doe Defendants caused Plaintiff Cheryl Weimar to suffer life-threatening and permanent injuries, including a broken neck. She is now a quadriplegic and has lost the ability to use her arms and legs."

The lawsuit's narrative lines up with accounts by other Lowell inmates that leaked out of the prison in the hours after the attack. According to the suit, she is now hospitalized with a breathing tube.

State officials have released almost no information on the attack or Weimar's condition. The Miami Herald reports that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has blocked Weimar's attorney and her husband from taking pictures of her injuries. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FLDE) and the FDOC Office of the Inspector General are both investigating the incident. FDOC Secretary Mark Inch said in a statement several days after the attack that the guards involved had been reassigned to jobs that do not involve contact with inmates while the investigation is pending.

Weimar's beating is the latest and most serious of several incidents that have put a spotlight on Florida's overcrowded, understaffed prison system generally and Lowell specifically. 

In July, three correctional officers at Florida's Lake Correctional Institution were arrested and charged with battery and filing false reports after cell phone video leaked by an inmate showed them viciously beating another inmate.

Last August, the Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation into pervasive misconduct and sexual assaults by correctional staff at Lowell. A 2015 Miami Herald investigation found numerous accusations of assaults, retaliation, filthy conditions, inadequate healthcare, and suspicious deaths at the prison, as well as "an inadequate number of cameras," which allows guards to hide brutality.

Democratic Florida state Rep. Dianne Hart, who has visited several Florida prisons over the past several weeks, travelled to Lowell last Sunday to interview inmates and see the conditions for herself.

Hart says inmates were only being given one small bar of soap, about the same size as those found in hotels, to last them a week. There were also shortages of sanitary napkins and tampons, despite the recent enactment of a law in Florida, the Dignity Act, to improve the conditions for incarcerated women.

"The way that they treat them is hardly with any dignity or respect," Hart says.

Florida's state-run prisons also lack air conditioning, subjecting inmates to sweltering heat and humidity. Hart says she heard numerous complaints about a correctional officer who turns off fans to retaliate against inmates.

For the last several years, bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers have been trying to pass legislation to reduce the state's prison population, which is the third largest in the U.S. However, the number of inmates has more or less remained stable, hovering around 97,000, while staff shortages and poor conditions continue to plague the prison system.

"This isn't rocket science," says Florida Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, one of the legislators pushing the state to overhaul its criminal justice system. "We are a prison system that's overstuffed and under-guarded, and that is a lethal combination of policies."

Dignity Florida, a group of formerly incarcerated women, is demanding the state fire the guards involved in Weimar's beating (in addition to possible criminal charges), a request that Hart echoes.

Hart's former brother-in-law, Carlton Hart, was allegedly beaten by guards inside another Florida prison a month ago. Hart says the beating left her former brother-law with a broken jaw, nose, and cheekbone, as well as a shattered eye socket. He was transferred to another facility for surgery and is currently recovering while his jaw is wired shut.

"I don't know what to tell you, but this is a culture in Florida that has gone on for 45, 50 years," Hart says. "How do we expect them to change overnight without somebody really putting their foot down on them? They've got to. When a guard does something, they need to be fired."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Lake Correctional Institution as being located in the Florida panhandle. It is in fact in central Florida. Earlier this year, the Jacksonville Times-Union published an investigation detailing allegations of physical abuse, bullying, racism, and cover-ups at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution, which is located in the panhandle.

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  1. Damn, it appears I have been grossly misled on the subject of fighting in women’s prisons. Nevertheless, I can’t say I’m surprised to find the sorts of people that would cheerfully take jobs as prison guards would turn out to be exactly the sort of people you would expect them to be.

    1. It’s a state job, good benefits. Different states run their prisons differently, different training, different culture. I know a few guards, none in Florida, all good guys. Sometimes they’d prefer other state jobs but they took what they could get.

  2. So this crazy woman brutally attacked four guards who had to defend themselves?
    It would have been nice if the report included the crime that put her there, and a bit of detail about the mental illness. All the search results just talk about this part.

    1. “It would have been nice if the report included the crime that put her there, and a bit of detail about the mental illness.”

      Yeah, FFS. How is a person to decide whether she got what she deserved until one knows what she was convicted of to get there and her mental state as a mitigating factor. This story needs some more character development, amirite? How can one determine if she should be free from cruel and unusual punishment, never mind, worthy of empathy and mercy? These are judgments that cannot be made on principle.

      Florida Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes,… “We are a prison system that’s overstuffed and under-guarded, and that is a lethal combination of policies.”

      In this case, the argument could be made that she was over-guarded and not under-guarded.

      As any statist bootlicker worth their salt will tell you, if you don’t want to suffer a prison guard beating then do not get sent to prison; however, actual guilt is immaterial as it is the conviction that seals one’s fate. So, statist boot licker admonishments to not break the law, are no guarantee that one will escape this manner of rehabilitation. Word to the free.

    2. So this crazy woman brutally attacked four guards who had to defend themselves?

      If this was the only way for four guards to defend themselves, they were not really competent guards. Come on–a few scratches, sure, that can happen–maybe even a tasing. But it should be pretty quick for four guards to restrain one inmate.

      It would have been nice if the report included the crime that put her there

      Not really, since none of them should be paralyzed by guard brutality, so it’s not really relevant. The RDS really never ends.

    3. I’m gonna assume this was sarcasm. Otherwise you’re a POS.

  3. I saw this in Shawshank Redemption.

    1. I wish I could tell you that Cheryl Weimar fought the good fight, and the Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that – but prison is no fairy-tale world. She never said who did it, but we all knew.

  4. Qualified immunity. It has not yet been sufficiently established that dragging someone away from cameras and beating them into paralysis is an unacceptable technique.

  5. You know who else beat Weimar?

    1. Maximus?

    2. The “Chancellor”?

  6. This is pretty awful. I’d like to posit that part of what makes accountability so difficult is we blame the institution (which does deserve blame) but we don’t ask, “who are the four guards, I want names.” I think that needs to be part of the equation.

    Part 1: Investigate the institution, fire the management who’s responsible for overseeing the culture.

    Part 2: Prosecute the individuals who performed the criminal act.

    Part 3: Hamstring the public sector unions which run interference on this stuff by design.

    1. Not even close.

      What makes accountability so difficult is because nobody gives a shit. They’re criminals, it’s not as if they deserve to be treated like human beings. There’s no need for investigations and prosecutions or reforms or oversight when nobody cares.

      1. I think you’re both right. Nobody demands step 1 above because of the mindset regarding criminals.

      2. That’s starting to change and Ben Shapiro is really upset about it.

  7. I’m willing to bet that the majority of my fellow Americans reading this story will end thinking that the guards should have just killed her.

    1. “I’m willing to bet that the majority of my fellow Americans reading this story will end thinking that the guards should have just killed her.”

      For vastly different reasons. One group on the basis of mercy and the other group just resenting the additional tax dollars that will now have to be spent on her behalf.

      1. Don’t forget the third group who believes she probably deserved it.

        1. Calm down, this isn’t Andy Ngo we’re talking about here.

      2. Can’t we just make the cost come out of the union pension fund?

        1. The Union Pension Fund is also known as “your wallet”.

          1. Right, forgot we have to plug up that hole too.

    2. I’d take that bet. The problem is the majority of Americans won’t read this story.

    3. Huh. I instead believe the four guards, who will clearly never be held responsible officially, should meet with unfortunate accidents thanks to Weimer’s family members.

  8. A correction:

    Lake Correctional Institution is a state prison in Florida but it is not located “deep in the Florida panhandle…”

    It is actually located in southern Lake County a little over 30 miles west of Orlando.

    1. I was gonna comment on that. The panhandle isn’t “deep”. That’s why it’s described as the handle.

    2. Lake Correctional Institution is a state prison in Florida but it is not located “deep in the Florida panhandle…”

      It is actually located in southern Lake County a little over 30 miles west of Orlando.

      Huh. They got that wrong.

      Something so simple. And they couldn’t get it right. They couldn’t take the seconds needed to even find out where the place actually was.

      Oh well, I’m sure everything else in the article is absolutely correct.

      Right?

      1. Well we all know the only depraved part of Florida is “the panhandle,” Nothing evil or disreputable ever happens in Lake County.

        1. Well, not since Sheriff Willis V. McCall anyway.

          I had a boss back in the early eighties who used to tell “funny” stories about growing up when Willis McCall was sheriff. Well, he thought they were funny anyway.

  9. Where did these guards get their training, Auschwitz?

    1. New York or Chicago, most likely.

  10. “The Miami Herald reports that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has blocked Weimar’s attorney and her husband from taking pictures of her injuries.”

    Hiding something scumbags???

  11. “…woman with a history of mental illness…”

    Why wasn’t she in a mental institution instead of a prison?

  12. Interesting reading the comments made on this article. As a former inmate at this particular prison from many years ago, it comes to no shock to me. First knowing how the prison is run at this specific facility, the guards were in no way in fear of their lives. They have enough power to take her down without beating her in this manner. I find it interesting as it was in a section where the cameras did not catch what exactly was happening. That’s how they covered it up in their own way. Just like some of us were raped and beat by guards there. Where no one else could see it. I don’t care what you did to get put in there, you don’t deserve to be beaten. The system doesn’t care if you have mental issues or not. They put you in population and expect you to serve with whatever it is you need to deal with. Just because someone did a crime to get put in prison doesn’t give people the right to treat them like dogs. We are human. If you really want to know how Lowell is run and the twisted situation within it’s walls reach out.

    1. “I don’t care what you did to get put in there, you don’t deserve to be beaten.”

      Exactly! There’s this document called the Constitution that forbids cruel and unusual punishment. This isn’t the Middle Ages. Prisons are not supposed to be torture chambers. Unfortunately, today’s society treats the Constitution like toilet paper. It’s terrible.

    2. “They have enough power to take her down without beating her in this manner.”

      And yet this “understaffed” facility had four guards who had the time to be alone with this one prisoner.

  13. They don’t need to be fired. They need to be jailed or, if death results, eradicated, like any other lethal germs.
    Scientists still haven’t found a lower life form than prison guards.

    1. You clearly don’t know any guards. And you believe as a group they are a lower form of life than pedophiles, terrorists and politicians?

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