tampabay.com

Company that runs jail is sued

A former inmate says the jail could have done more to prevent an attack by other inmates.

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published March 13, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Two years ago, inmate Jeffrey McLaughlin was beaten up at the Hernando County Jail while waiting in line to use the microwave.

Last week, McLaughlin, who is now a state prisoner, filed suit against Corrections Corporation of America, the company that runs the jail, claiming that the jail was negligent in not preventing the other inmates from attacking him.

The incident happened about 6 a.m. on March 22, 2005, according to McLaughlin's statement to sheriff's deputies at the time. He was standing by the microwave in cell block C when Byron Burch, another inmate, came up and started shouting that McLaughlin was standing too close.

Burch punched McLaughlin in the face a few times, the report said, and then Darrel Hall, another inmate, came over and helped Burch stomp on McLaughlin's face.

Burch, 36, was charged with felony battery and Hall, 44, with misdemeanor battery. Both pleaded no contest.

But McLaughlin, 49, said the jail was partly to blame.

In a lawsuit he wrote in state prison, McLaughlin enumerates his complaints: the emergency call button wasn't working, the guards weren't paying close enough attention in the cell block, no one was monitoring the surveillance camera.

Had any of these things been done, "the petitioner would probably have sustained minor injuries" instead of major ones, McLaughlin wrote.

The Sheriff's Office report on the incident said the surveillance camera did not cover the area of the cell block where the fight took place.

McLaughlin wrote that he suffered "major damage, mental as well as physical," but the extent of his injuries is unclear.

At the time, a jail nurse told the Sheriff's Office that McLaughlin did not suffer bone fractures nor neurological damage. He was observed to have several scrapes on his head, and cuts on his nose and lip.

McLaughlin was booked into the jail March 8 on a violation of probation and a drug charge.

According to Department of Corrections records, he is now about two years into a 10-year term in state prison for aggravated battery, aggravated assault and cocaine possession.

Hernando jail warden Don Stewart, who wasn't working at the facility when the incident happened, said he wasn't familiar with the accusations or the suit.

"At this point," he said, "I don't think we've even been served."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 352 754-6114.