News from Tallahassee for 1/25/15

Could Florida prison officials have stopped fatal beating? posted on 1/12/15

by AP & Miami Herald

A prisoner with a history of assaulting other inmates will go on trial this week, accused of fatally beating his cellmate with batteries stuffed into a sock while the victim's feet and legs were tied.

Shawn Rogers, 34, is charged in the death of cellmate Ricky Martin. Authorities said Martin, 24, was found covered in blood on the floor of a cell at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in 2012 with his skull smashed in. Bloody boxer shorts covered his head, and a piece of cloth was wrapped around Martin's neck. He died later at a hospital.

Martin, a convicted burglar from Naples who had 14 months left on his prison term, had only been at the facility for 36 hours. The Department of Corrections said Martin was transferred because he had a history of discipline problems.

His new roommate was Rogers, who in his own words said "It's no military secret that I have been one of the most vicious and violent prisoners in the entire state of Florida," according to a letter he wrote the judge.

Critics blame the Department of Corrections for putting Rogers in a cell with Martin. Fellow inmates who witnessed the attack said authorities ignored warnings to stop the attack.

» Read more

New cameras go on hats or glasses, not lapels, of Tampa police posted on 1/9/15


TAMPA — An estimated 60 city police officers will begin wearing body cameras by the start of next month but don’t look for the recording devices on officers’ lapels.

The cameras, instead, will be attached to hats, sunglasses or epaulets to ensure that video footage captures as closely as possible the officers’ own perspective on traffic stops and other encounters with the public.

“I have seen incidents that have been video recorded from a series of angles,” said City Police Chief Jane Castor. “Depending on what video you watch, you could come to a different conclusion in that scenario.”

The police department’s one-year camera pilot program got an official greenlight Thursday when the City Council unanimously approved spending $83,000 for the cameras and offsite storage of video footage. The money will come from the police forfeiture fund — money from cash and property seized in criminal investigations.

Castor also provided the first details of the policy developed by the department to govern how the cameras, roughly the size of a pager, will be used.

Officers will be expected to record traffic stops, any type of confrontational situation, pursuits both on foot and by car, and when taking statements from victims or witnesses in public areas.

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Florida lawmakers hear about torture, death in state’s prisons posted on 1/6/15

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s troubled prison system came under the microscope of state lawmakers Monday meeting for the first time since wide-ranging allegations of inmate abuse and cronyism emerged and was followed — again – by turnover at the top.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones’ first full day on the job found the Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing testimony about prisoners taunted and tortured by guards, a punishment center whose bloody floor earned it the name the Red Room, and a system described by one critic as “too broken” for any single official to repair.

Jones attended Monday’s meeting but was not asked to testify. And Committee Chairman Greg Evers, whose Panhandle district includes some of Florida’s toughest prisons, said he wasn’t “going to throw her in the fire just yet.”

But Evers said he wanted to hear from the agency before endorsing any of the proposed changes advocates put before the panel.

“Our priority is not to be decided…until we give the Department of Corrections the ability to come in and tell us what they’re thinking and where they think they need to go,” Evers said. “This committee has a lot of interest. And I think we’ll give some direction.”

But he added, “Nothing has to be done. But I would hate to think…that we didn’t take the bull by the horns and make changes that are most evident.”

Jones is Scott’s fourth corrections secretary in as many years. She was named after months of media reports about prison problems, including a Palm Beach Post series which cited wholesale flaws in inmate health care that accompanied the past decade’s rapid expansion of private prisons in Florida.

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Rick Scott's top challenges for his second term posted on 1/5/15

by GARY FINEOUT | The Fine Print

FL Gov Rick Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, considered one of the most vulnerable governors in the nation last year, will this week be sworn into a second term and take his place in state history as just the second GOP governor to earn re-election.

Scott's priorities—which are likely to be reflected in his inauguration day speech—won't be much of a surprise since he is expected to repeat what he's been saying for some time now.

Scott will stress jobs, the state's economic recovery, tax cuts, as well as other key parts of Scott's re-election platform such as keeping college tuition costs down.

But key questions remain, including whether or not Scott gets any kind of "honeymoon" after his narrow re-election. And additionally, how will Scott fare with the distractions, scandals and other problems that loom on the horizon?

Any of these could be a test for Scott and his campaign-hardened team led by Chief of Staff Melissa Sellers. After winning by roughly 64,000 votes how much political capital does Scott really have, and more importantly, how will he react if legislators, lobbyists and other in Tallahassee start worrying about the next set of campaigns instead of Scott?

it can be argued of course that as long as the state's economy continues to recover that Scott has met his primary challenge and the one that he ran on.

But there's plenty of challenges Scott will confront in the coming year that could cause him problems and harm his eventual legacy.

» Read more

Senate Panel To Discuss Florida Prison Reforms This Week posted on 1/5/15

by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

During the week after New Year’s, Florida lawmakers are slated to come back into Tallahassee for the start of committee weeks. And, on their first day back, one Senate panel is looking at ways to help Florida’s troubled prison system.

First, Senate Criminal Justice Committee members will hear introductory remarks from the panel’s chair: Republican Senator Greg Evers.

Then, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is expected to do a presentation on the status of its investigation into unnatural inmate deaths at the Florida Department of Corrections—a task they took over this year as part of a series of prison reforms.

They’ll also hear a presentation from George Mallinckrodt, a former mental health counselor who worked in the same psychiatric unit where a mentally ill inmate died at Dade Correctional Institution, after he was allegedly kept in a scalding hot shower by prison guards.

In addition, the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University’s chairman Allison DeFoor will outline a series of recommendations released in a report where they see Florida’s prison system needs help. That includes a look at the Corrections’ Secretary term in office as well as creating an oversight body that looks at criminal justice issues.

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