Witnesses called it a vicious mugging. The alleged 'perps': prison guards

  • In US
  • 2020-02-14 22:07:51Z
  • By Miami Herald
Witnesses called it a vicious mugging. The alleged \
Witnesses called it a vicious mugging. The alleged \'perps\': prison guards  

Ryan Dionne held the emotionally distraught woman down and Keith Turner kneed her repeatedly in the head and back, according to witnesses to the brutal daytime assault.

The two men then allegedly dragged their victim across a long field and a pavilion - her head "bobbing" off the ground, her eyes rolled back in her head - as they ordered potential witnesses: "Look away! Look Away!"

Some did as they were told. But others looked on.

Now they are telling their stories as part of a lawsuit that seeks to recover money for Cheryl Weimar, 51, who is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of the Aug. 21, 2019, attack.

But because it happened at Lowell Correctional Institution and Weimar was an inmate, afforded few rights and little dignity, and Dionne and Turner were staff members, the alleged attackers have not been charged with a crime, and one of them remains on staff, his salary covered by the taxpayers of Florida.

That would be Ryan Dionne.

Keith Turner, 34, who had achieved the rank of lieutenant despite a sordid track record of complaints alleging he brutalized inmates at the women's prison and coerced them into performing sex acts, was dismissed only after being accused of molesting underage victims away from the job.

Both men are subjects of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Glady said the Department of Corrections doesn't comment on litigation or personnel matters, but that the prison system does not tolerate brutalizing inmates.

When alleged assaults by prison staff are investigated as possible crimes, the inquiry can drag on for months only to lead in many cases to no charges. One remedy is a civil suit, but as that plods through the courts, taxpayers pay the salary of the alleged abuser or abusers.

Deposed as part of the lawsuit, which names them individually and the Department of Corrections as defendants, both men repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment right to say nothing.

According to the lawsuit, Dionne stated privately after the assault that he "beat [Plaintiff] stupid" because she couldn't clean a toilet.

"After witnessing the officers drag the lady through the compound, I and others thought the lady was dead," Brittany Flutie Davis, a former Lowell inmate, said in a sworn statement.

Davis was one of four women who recently gave similar statements about the day Weimar - who has a history of mental illness and suffered from a bad back and hip - was beaten by the corrections officers.

Lawyer Ryan Andrews filed the federal civil rights lawsuit in September on behalf of Weimar.

In the past week, Andrews filed three separate motions asking a judge for summary judgment against the two guards, Turner and Dionne, and a motion seeking partial summary judgment against the Florida Department of Corrections. Andrews said he hopes that Weimar, who is now a quadriplegic, "will get the care she needs."

"The indisputable evidence establishes that defendant Dionne violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments by using excessive force on plaintiff, causing her to suffer severe and permanent injuries," Andrews wrote in the motion.

Weimar, who was incarcerated in 2016 on a domestic violence-related charge, was tasked with cleaning the toilet in a dorm and told guards she couldn't do it because of her hip condition. The officers ignored Weimar's declaration of a mental health emergency and began beating her, the Miami Herald was told.

Andrews included recent depositions of both corrections officers. Neither answered any of Andrews' detailed questions, some as benign as whether they had given a deposition before. Many of the questions called for yes/no answers.

A sample:

Andrews: Do you currently work for the Florida

Dionne: I'm asserting my Fifth Amendment right.

Andrews: Did you have any physical interactions with Cheryl Weimar?

Dionne: I'm asserting my Fifth Amendment right.

But the women of Lowell didn't hold back.

One woman - the Herald is not naming her because she is currently incarcerated - said she heard Turner say to Dion " 'Let's go take care of this,' " after another staffer, an officer Baez, called for help over the radio.

"As they were dragging her, her feet and knees [were] hitting the ground, and the tops of her feet dragging on the ground behind her," she said.

Later that day, she said, Baez told her and another woman "That lady didn't deserve that."

Davis went on to say that inmates were threatened by officers with months of confinement, a highly restrictive and undesirable form of isolation, if they told a state lawmaker visiting the compound what they had seen.

She also said Turner "had a reputation on the compound for sexually abusing female inmates."

"It was also rumored that he contracted and continued to spread the sexually transmitted disease herpes to many of his female inmate victims," she said, adding he'd often threatened punishment. "If you refused to 'take care of him,' which meant oral or regular sex, he' d threaten to put you under investigation and take your gain time. Some of the girls were so desperate to not lose their gain time they would have sexual intercourse with Lt. Turner."

Gain time is time shaved off a sentence for good behavior.

Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, quoted six months after the incident, said the department "has processes in place to identify, report, investigate, terminate and arrest, as applicable, those who violate our standards of professional conduct."

"I have made it very clear that we have zero tolerance for abuse and have taken swift action to hold correctional officers accountable, when we have substantiated evidence against a staff member for misconduct," he said in a statement. "We will continue to fully cooperate in FDLE's open and active case and will exercise the patience necessary to get all of the facts. If any individual is found to have acted outside their authorities, we will take action against them."

In 2015, the Herald published the investigative series Beyond Punishment, which explored cruel conditions Lowell inmates had to endure.

Miami Herald staff writer Ben Conarck contributed to this report.


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