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Inmate: Testifying cost me a beating

A witness in a prison abuse case tells a judge guards worked him over in retribution for agreeing to testify.

Published September 13, 2006

JACKSONVILLE - An inmate testifying at a hearing on inmate abuse surprised a federal judge Tuesday when he said guards beat him for agreeing to testify.

Inmate Anthony Sutton, from Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton, east of Pensacola, showed U.S. District Judge Henry L. Adams Jr. his swollen lip and cuts and bruises on his face. "Friday, at Santa Rosa, I was slapped and thrown to the ground by Sgt. Dean and others," he said. "Dean told me I should keep quiet."

Sutton also said he had cuts and bruises on his back and legs from the beating and offered to show the judge, who said seeing his face was enough.

On Friday, eight inmates from Santa Rosa, including Sutton, were transported to Union Correctional Institution to testify via video in Adams' courtroom about alleged abuse in maximum security - called "controlled management" in Florida's prisons. But before they left Santa Rosa, six of the eight said, they witnessed the unexpected attack on Sutton. Several said they were threatened with similar treatment if they testified. They said they feared returning to Santa Rosa.

Adams listened to six inmates describe witnessing some part of the alleged beating. Susan Maher, assistant attorney general representing the Florida Department of Corrections at the hearing, told the judge: "We have turned this information over to the inspector general (for the DOC), who is investigating."

Maher repeatedly objected to the testimony from the Santa Rosa inmates about Sutton, telling the judge "it is outside the scope of this case." But Adams insisted upon hearing it, even though the inmates were there to testify about alleged "cruel and inhuman" conditions at Santa Rosa and other Florida prisons while in controlled management.

"Sutton had his property thrown out for testifying in this case," said inmate William Demps. "Then, Friday, before we left, I saw Sgt. Dean slap him and slam him."

Sgt. Dean's full name did not come up in the inmates' testimony.

Inmate Theophilius Hyman said the inmates were warned they should "keep their mouths shut" by guards as they were being transported to UCI to testify or they would "get slammed like Sutton." Benson Frazier, another Santa Rosa inmate, testified, "I saw the captain push Sutton into a wall while another holster (correctional officer) slapped him."

Randy Berg of the Florida Justice Institute, representing the inmates who were testifying as plaintiffs in a class action case against the DOC, asked the judge if he would keep the Santa Rosa inmates at UCI until the investigation into what happened to Sutton was completed.

"I do understand that they are fearful. I also understand there is some inconsistency in what they say," said Adams. "If there is a threat, it's to one individual (Sutton)."

Adams declined to move any of them from Santa Rosa while the alleged beating is investigated. Meanwhile, he will hear inmates continue to testify about alleged abuse in five Florida prisons. The hearing is expected to last through next week.

Referring after Tuesday's session to the inmates' testimony about the alleged beating and guards' threats, Berg said, "If this is true, we're talking about witness tampering, which is a very serious felony."

[Last modified September 13, 2006, 06:05:41]

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