A minor who was raped and beaten unconscious by other prisoners at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell, Florida will receive $60,000 as part of a legal settlement with a guard who failed to intervene in the assault.
The settlement is the result of a federal lawsuit filed by the SPLC and Florida Legal Services (FLS). It is part of an effort to end the culture of brutality in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), where teens are held in violent youthful offender facilities.
R.W., as he is named in court papers, was 17 when he was attacked in July 2013. He was choked, beaten, raped with a broom handle, and stabbed more than 100 times with barbed-wire by approximately six other prisoners as part of an initiation ritual called a “Test of Heart” that went ignored by the guard who was responsible for security.
“It was torture,” said R.W., who has since been released from prison, returned to his home, and found employment. “I knew the guard could see what was happening, yet he did nothing. I have never felt so afraid or so alone.”
The attack on R.W. was one of at least 176 documented inmate and staff assaults between January 2013 and January 2016 at the Sumter Correctional Institution, which houses more than 100 prisoners under the age of 17. What happened to R.W. is not unique to Sumter. Just last year, FDOC agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit by a minor who was permanently injured from a “Test of Heart” beating at Lancaster Correctional Institution.
“Violence is endemic in Florida’s prisons, and young people are particularly vulnerable,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the SPLC. “What happened to our client is horrifying. No one, let alone a child, should be subjected to this kind of brutality in this day and age in America. Florida has to do better.”
The officer on duty – and the defendant in the lawsuit – is Bruce A. Kiser Jr. He was in the officer’s station right next to the bathroom where the attack occurred. Surveillance footage confirmed that there was a clear line of sight into the bathroom, yet Kiser did nothing to stop the beating, and did not report the attack.
Kiser was named as the defendant because officers can be held individually liable when someone is injured, according to federal law. Despite a recommendation for administrative action by an investigator with FDOC’s Office of the Inspector General, Kiser is still an FDOC employee.
“This case should send a strong message to the officers who staff prisons for youthful offenders and the Florida Department of Corrections that there are consequences for permitting this kind of violence to happen, or looking the other way when it does,” said Andrea Costello, director of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project of FLS. “Our young people deserve second chances, not additional trauma and abuse from the criminal justice system.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Florida incarcerates more children in adult prisons than any other state in the country, including some as young as 14. The SPLC has been urging the state Legislature to keep more children out of adult prisons by requiring that a judge – not a prosecutor – determine whether a case should be tried in adult court.
“Children don’t belong in adult prisons,” said Graybill. “Florida must reform its barbaric system so that children are treated humanely and given the rehabilitative resources they need to become law-abiding citizens when they return to our communities.”
For more information, see the complaint and settlement document.
For more information about the SPLC’s advocacy on behalf of children in Florida’s adult prisons see: www.noplaceforachild.com.