A minor at the Sumter Correctional Institution in Florida was brutally beaten and raped as part of a prison initiation ritual that was ignored by a guard. The SPLC and its co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the youth to end the culture of brutality at the prison, which houses youthful offenders.
The minor, R.W., endured a beating by more than six other youths as part of an initiation rite known as a “test of heart,” while a prison guard failed to come to his aid. R.W. was cut multiple times with sharpened barbed wire, choked until unconscious and raped with a broomstick.
Bruce A. Kiser Jr., the officer on duty at the time and defendant in the lawsuit, was stationed immediately in front of the area where the attack occurred for the very purpose of supervising the youths involved, according to the suit. Yet he did nothing to stop the beating, and never reported the attack.
An investigation by the Florida Department of Corrections Office of the Inspector General noted Kiser’s inaction and recommended the matter be reviewed for possible administrative action. Despite that recommendation – and a commitment to a “new accountability” by the head of the department – Kiser remained employed.
Numerous complaints related to violence and tests of heart had been brought to the attention of the department. Before the filing of this lawsuit, the department agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit by a youth permanently injured in a test of heart at Lancaster Correctional Institution. In 2014, a youth died from injuries reportedly sustained in a similar attack.
Florida incarcerated children as young as 14 in youthful offender prisons – part of the adult prison system and among the most brutal facilities in the state. On any given day there were approximately 140 minors incarcerated in Florida prisons. The state incarcerated more children in adult prisons than any other state in the country, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Before filing the lawsuit, the SPLC and other advocates sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling on the federal government to investigate horrific conditions in Florida prisons, including for incarcerated youth.
The Florida Institutional Legal Services Project of Florida Legal Services served as the SPLC’s co-counsel.