September 30, 2006

Death Row Inmate Beaten to Death by Guards

SEE related post Valdes v. Crosby, Opinion May 31, 2006

Death Row News ~July 28, 1999~

Associated Press

STARKE - Ten days before inmate death row Frank Valdes died in a solitary confinement cell on X wing at Florida State Prison, another prisoner described systematic beatings of five other inmates in a letter to a newspaper.

"The sounds of prisoners screaming in pain and of bodies being beaten keeps the inmates on the entire wing up all night," inmate Mike Lambrix wrote in a letter to The Miami Herald dated July 6. "I can hear the officers forcibly taking inmates from their cells. The wretched sound of fists and boots striking flesh are unmistakable as is the sound of some kind of weapon (a stick or a broom handle?) being used.

They scream. They whimper. Then there is silence." The Herald, which received the letter July 15, two days before Valdes died, asked Florida Institutional Legal Services, a Gainesville-based prisoner advocate group, to check out Lambrix's allegations.

Two representatives visited X wing inmates on July 19, the Monday after Valdes' Saturday death. One was legal intern Michelle Thresher, who said that after the visit: "We knew that what Gov. Jeb Bush had said - that the Valdes beating was an isolated incident - was not true.

We knew that Valdes' death was part of a pattern of beatings." She said four of the inmates Lambrix had named in his letter had been taken from their cells and beaten. The four had been moved to X wing from Hamilton Correctional Institution in Jasper for an alleged assault on a guard there.

Valdes was at FSP for killing a guard in 1987. Since his death, 11 guards have been suspended with pay in what has been characterized as a widening investigation into brutality against inmates at the prison. Last week, FBI and federal prosecutors joined agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in the probe. C.J. Drake, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said Tuesday he was not aware of the allegations made by Lambrix.

"I'm skeptical of the claims made by him or any other inmate," Drake said. "He's on death row and he may be predisposed to complain." Lambrix was recently transferred to the North Florida Reception Center in Lake Butler, but Drake said he didn't immediately know the reason for the move.

On July 4 and again on July 10, X wing inmate Willie Mathews had been beaten so severely his jaw had been broken, the legal services representatives said. He was put back in his solitary confinement cell on X wing and refused medical treatment for nine days, they said. He was taken to Shands Hospital on July 19.

Mathews said that he heard the guards hitting Valdes the night Valdes died: "They kept beating him, beating him. A lot of bumping going on. Then it got real quiet, real still. I knew he was messed up pretty bad because they beat him about 10 minutes. He's going to speak his piece whether he's getting whupped or not. But he wasn't saying anything. I knew then they had messed him up." Two of the guards Mathews named for taking part in his July 10 beating are among those suspended as part of the Valdes probe.

They are Sgt. Charles Brown and Capt. Timothy Thornton. In his letter, Lambrix, who is sentenced to die for a 1984 double murder, wrote: "Whatever happens, know this: There are five men ... in an X wing vault with no means of communicating with the outside world. They have been beaten half to death and denied medical attention and food. Can human beings ignore that?"