Internal documents from jail and sheriff’s office said that a 75-year-old black inmate died while he was being moved into a psychiatric observation cell in a Florida jail and to contain him, corrections officers used force. No criminal charges were filed because the officers’ actions are deemed justified.
Three days after being arrested on charges of aggravated battery for allegedly stabbing his wife, William Howard was found unresponsive at the Orange County jail in November. An autopsy report and the sheriff’s office’s 20-page review reveal that corrections officers carried out a “take-down” while moving Howard to another cell for observation, causing a neck fracture and eventual Howard’s death.
Jail spokesperson Tracy Zampaglione said force had to be used because Howard refused to cooperate with officers. Several other officers are still under internal investigation for the matter. Three nursing staff members were reprimanded while one was fired for not properly treating Howard.
The Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office reviewed the use of force but decided against filing criminal charges against the officers. Howard’s family questioned why force had to be used at all against their loved one.
Howard’s brother, Waverly, said: “We are talking about a 75-year-old man. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of strength there. He was in jail and wasn’t armed.”
Two days after he was booked into jail, Howard started making incoherent statements and wandering around the jail’s common area. He was placed on suicide watch and was sprayed with pepper spray and transferred to another cell.
Officers said that he refused to be moved to another cell hours later and they were instructed to “take him down” when he resisted attempts to transfer him. Video recorded by one officer showed Howard tensing his body and screaming as officers tried to wrestle him to the floor.
One officer according to the review appeared to perform a leg sweep, making Howard fall head first to the floor. Howard was shown in the video being carried by four officers face-down and limp, to a new cell. Howard while at the new cell refused medical assistance, but started complaining November 19 of neck and back pain along with weakness and decreased sensation in his legs. Howard was only brought to the hospital after he was found unresponsive. He died on November 20.
Howard’s family complained that the officers’ actions were “unnecessary and overly aggressive”. Howard’s lawyer said he died because his medical complaints were ignored. The officers maintained, however, that they simply acted in “response to what they actually perceived to be physical resistance.”