Three of the “Chipley Five,’’ a group of corrections officers accused of beating and kicking a handcuffed inmate at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley, have pleaded guilty to civil rights violations, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Former state prison guards William Finch, 35, of Wauseau, and Dalton E. Riley, 24, of Bethlehem, pleaded guilty Thursday before a federal judge in Panama City. A third ex-officer, Robert L. Miller, 48, of Lynn Haven, pleaded guilty on April 1.
The three admitted that they beat inmate Jeremiah Tatum, then tried to cover it up. According to the state attorney, Finch falsified reports by stating they attacked Tatum because he had spit on one of the officers.
Two other officers, James Perkins and Christopher Christmas, also face federal charges in connection with the Aug. 5 beating, which was allegedly planned in advance as retaliation against Tatum.
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A captain, James Kirkland, allegedly orchestrated the assault after Tatum tried to block the chemical agents sprayed on him and, as a result, some of the gas dispersed onto Kirkland and another corrections officer, according to court documents.
Kirkland, who had been involuntarily admitted to a mental facility earlier in the year, committed suicide in December, after his arrest.
Sentencing for Finch and Riley is scheduled for July 1. Miller will be sentenced June 17.
The U.S. Department of Justice and state lawmakers have been taking a close look at DOC operations in the wake of a year of media reports about suspicious inmate deaths, abuse, medical negligence and corruption.