The state of Florida will pay out $4.65 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by Cheryl Weimar, a state prison inmate who was paralyzed from the neck down after a brutal beating by guards last September.
The Miami Herald reports that the payout could be the largest settlement ever by the state in a prison abuse case. (In 2018, the state paid $4.5 million to the family of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill Florida inmate who was boiled to death in a rigged shower by two guards).
The settlement agreement closes the book, at least on the civil side, on a case that put a gruesome spotlight on Florida's troubled prison system, and specifically ongoing allegations of brutality and abuse at Lowell Correctional Institution, the state's largest women's prison.
According to Weimar's lawsuit, she complained to a guard on Aug. 21 of last year, saying she couldn't clean toilets because of pain from a pre-existing hip condition. This led to a confrontation with two 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, her lawsuit alleged, the guards slammed her to the ground and began beating her. At least one guard elbowed the back of her neck, the suit said. Guards then dragged Weimar "like a rag doll" to an area not covered by surveillance cameras and continued beating her nearly to death.
For the past year, she has been confined to a hospital bed, paralyzed from the neck down, and dependent on feeding tubes.
Internal Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) incident reports showed that Keith Turner, one of the guards allegedly involved in the beating, had a long history of complaints against him alleging excessive force, verbal and physical abuse, and trading contraband cigarettes for oral sex. Turner was later arrested on charges of molesting two minors and fired from the FDOC. The other correctional officer named in the lawsuit was reassigned and remains employed at the department.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FLDE) and the FDOC Office of the Inspector General both launched investigations into Weimar's beating. The FDLE investigation is still ongoing, according to a department spokesperson.
In 2018, 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.
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