A newly surfaced report shows Florida corrections officers broke a man’s neck and left him to deteriorate in a cell.
According to reports, Craig Ridley, 62, was tackled to the ground first face by a group of corrections officers. He told prison staff that his neck was dislocated, but they accused him of faking his injury. Ridley was actually paralyzed.
Video footage from the prison published by the Miami Herald shows Ridley crying out in pain and struggling to hold up his head and lean his body in a wheelchair in September 2017.
“You ain’t paralyzed,” one officer told him.
Officers chained up Ridley and put him in a confinement cell.
“You’re bullsh———ing… you’re just trying to get a lawsuit,” the officers told him.
The injured man sat in confinement for five days, unable to walk and pick up his food trays. Nearly a dozen other men in the prison begged guards to help Ridley. However, reports show that prison staff walked by Ridley’s cell about 170 times and did nothing.
Finally, one officer decided to intervene on September 12, 2017, after Ridley’s food trays had pilled up. He was taken to a hospital in Jacksonville and incubated. He died on October 12, 2017.
“He suffered the torment of the damned prior to his death,” said James Cook, an attorney for Ridley’s daughter.
What’s more, the ordeal occurred at the Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler, the main hospital for the prison system, where Ridley was a kitchen worker.
Details of Ridley’s death had stayed hidden for years as the corrections agency ignored his family’s records requests. The Miami Herald unraveled the 383-page investigative report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement this week.
A medical examiner ruled Ridley’s death a homicide caused by “blunt impact” to the head and neck, a significant spinal cord injury and “complications of quadriplegia.” No one was charged for the man’s death.
Prosecutors concluded that corrections officers acted on the advice of medical staff despite the FDLE’s findings of neglect and abuse.
Dr. Jean Dure and a prison nurse noted that Ridley was fine after an X-Ray and CT scan. However, the FDLE said they did not perform neurological tests. Officers falsified documents to show Ridley had eaten while in confinement and apparently forged his signature on records, the state law enforcement agency found.
The prison system suspended one guard for 8.5 hours without pay because he walked past the paralyzed man’s cell 16 times over two days without providing aid or reporting that he wasn’t eating, and two others had a letter of reprimand placed in their files for using inappropriate language to Ridley when his neck was dislocated. One officer reportedly mocked the man by rocking his head back and forth, and an orderly twisted his head in front of another officer and a nurse in the prison’s urgent care.
Ridley’s sister, Diane Ridley Gatewood, an attorney from New York, said the prison told her he had died of cancer. Still, she did not believe them and started inquiring further, filing record requests and seeking answers from local and state prosecutors.
“This was an inhumane death caused by an abysmal lack of medical treatment,” Ridley Gatewood said. “It was torture.”
Ridley was serving a 20-year sentence for aggravated assault and criminal mischief from 2008. The Army veteran allegedly slashed the tires of a man who owed him money and fired multiple rounds into the person’s office door. In prison, he had a reputation as a “model inmate” and “the President” for his cool and calm temperament. His disciplinary records show he only had been cited for minor infractions.
Former corrections staff, investigators and medical professionals agree that someone should be held responsible for Ridley’s death.
“His civil rights were violated,” said David Rembert, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Prairie View A&M University. “This was deliberate indifference to medical need. … If you’re walking past somebody’s cell day after day and they’re not moving, you have to know something is wrong.”
Rembert also pointed out that prison staff interviews contradict each other and records connected to the man’s death.
“You don’t know who’s telling the truth and who’s not,” he said. “This is a hell of a cover-up.”
The deceased man’s daughter has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections secretary and more than a dozen current and former corrections officers and medical staff.
“They think they’re above the system, and they can make this go away, but they’re wrong,” Jatoon Moss said. “It’s not just my father. We have to get as much light as we can on this issue, especially for the Black community. My father was a Black man. I am a Black woman.”
Ridley is one of several people incarcerated in the state’s overpopulated and understaffed prisons who have died or is paralyzed from a beating, the Miami Herald reports.
However, Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the state corrections agency, said the man’s death was an isolated incident.
“The circumstances of this case are isolated and absolutely no reflection of what our policies outline and expect,” Glady wrote in an email. “We have reviewed this case in depth and recognize the many failures that took place and we have learned from it.”
“All individuals still employed at the conclusion of the case were disciplined for the role they played,” she added.