Former Inmate Receives $60K Settlement in Prison Rape Lawsuit
R.W., as he goes by in the court papers, a former inmate who was still a minor when he was raped and beaten unconscious by other prisoners at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell, Florida, set is to receive $60,000 as part of a legal settlement with a prison guard who failed to intervene and stop the attack.
The lawsuit was originally filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Florida Legal Services (FLS) as part of an overall effort by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to end prison brutality. R.W. was seventeen years old at the time the assault occurred back in July 2013. During the attack, he was beaten, choked, raped with a broom handle, and stabbed more than one hundred times with barbed wire. Six other prisoners were involved and later indicated beating was part of an initiation ritual called a “Test of Heart”. The guard responsible for the prisoners’ security ignored the group’s advances.
“It was torture,” said R.W., who has since been released, and has returned to his home. “I knew the guard could see what was happening, yet he did nothing. I have never felt so afraid or so alone.”
The attack was one of nearly two hundred documented inmate and staff assaults during the three-year period between January 2013 and January 2016 at the Sumter Correctional Institution. The prison holds more than 100 minor inmates.
What happened to R.W. is, unfortunately, not unique to the Sumter facility, either. In 2016, FDOC agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit by another 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.”
Bruce A. Kiser Jr. was the officer on duty at the time of the crime against the minor. He was in the officer’s station right next to the bathroom where the attack on R.W. occurred. Surveillance footage confirmed there was a clear line of sight into the bathroom. According to federal law, officers can be held liable when someone is injured, and they fail to try to stop it or report the injury. Because he did neither, Kiser was named in the lawsuit.
“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.”
Graybill agrees completely. “Children don’t belong in adult prisons,” she said of potential problems that occur whenever a minor inmate is placed among older prisoners. “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.”