Two former Panhandle corrections officers were acquitted by a jury on Tuesday on charges that they sprayed an inmate in the face with chemicals and locked him in a closet.
The two men, formerly on staff at Liberty Correctional Institution, allegedly punched the inmate after he refused to return to a dorm because he believed his cellmate was going to harm him.
Former Capt. Steven Cloud and former Sgt. William Jeffery Davis were found not guilty on charges of malicious battery, official misconduct and filing untruthful reports. The charges were brought by investigators with the Florida Department of Corrections.
Davis’ attorney said that during trial the evidence showed that the inmate “provoked” the guards to spray him so that he would be sent to confinement because he had been threatened by a gang.
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The attorney, Ethan Wray, said the inmate refused to tell the officers who had slashed and threatened him, and after an investigation the officers ordered him back to his cell in general population. They later found him in an unauthorized area and again ordered him to return to his cell.
The inmate, whose name was not released by the Department of Corrections, kept insisting that he needed to go into confinement for his own protection — and when the officers refused, he lunged at the officers, Wray said. This prompted them to spray and subdue him.
In recent years, the agency has cracked down on inmate abuse, which has led to the arrests of dozens of officers around the state. But gang-related violence is at an all-time high. The department recently reduced visiting hours on weekends to help ease staff shortages.
Cloud and Davis no longer work for the department.