A corrections officer lied when he said an inmate spit in his face to justify a brutal beating last month at a Florida prison, investigators said.
Capt. James Kirkland (pictured above) was arrested Thursday on two counts of official misconduct, and five sergeants — William Finch, James Perkins, Robert Miller, Christopher Christmas and Dalton Riley – were charged with felony battery of an inmate.
All six corrections officers were fired.
The inspector general for the Florida Department of Corrections found Kirkland ordered one of the sergeants to write incident reports for the others so their stories would match.
But one of the corrections officers admitted to investigators the reports were “fictitious” and helped to cover up Kirkland’s “illegal order to commit a malicious battery.”
Kirkland and the other corrections officers were transferring 31-year-old inmate Jeremiah Tatum into a shower Aug. 5 after he was sprayed with chemical irritant during a disturbance at Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley.
Kirkland told the other officers he wanted Tatum taken down, and he instructed them that he would make a spitting sound or say the inmate spit on him.
“The escorting officers were to then force inmate Tatum to the ground,” court documents show.
The captain said Tatum spat “directly” into his face during the transfer, but all five sergeants said under oath that the inmate never spit on Kirkland.
Video from the incident showed Finch and Riley slam Tatum – who was shackled in hand, ankle, and leg restraints – face-first onto the concrete floor.
Perkins then jumps on the prisoner’s legs and presses his body into the ground.
“Capt. James Kirkland instructed (the sergeants) prior to the escort that he wanted inmate Tatum to be taken to the ground,” court documents showed. “Captain Kirkland would make an audible noise and/or state that inmate Tatum spit on him. The escorting officers were to then force inmate Tatum to the ground.”
Perkins said the sergeants threw Tatum to the ground on Kirkland’s orders, and Finch was then ordered to type all of the officers’ reports to line up with the captain’s claims.
The inspector general is investigating three deaths at Chipley, and a fourth is being reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.