Broward County

Another prison homicide, another investigation

Matthew Walker
Matthew Walker Florida Department of Corrections

The state launched another investigation of the local prison, Charlotte Correctional Institution, after a second inmate death from 2014 was ruled a homicide.

The Florida Department of Corrections verified its Office of the Inspector General actually is conducting two administrative investigations involving different policies and procedures at Charlotte , as questionable circumstances led to the death of not only inmate Matthew Walker in April 2014, but also Damion Foster about a month later.

Foster, newly released state documents show, was spitting up blood toward guards after a cell extraction, so a cloth spit mask was placed over his mouth. Foster essentially suffocated after swallowing his own blood, authorities say.

The Charlotte Sun made several public records requests earlier this month after noticing Foster’s manner of death suddenly changed from “pending” to “homicide” on the FDC’s “transparency database of inmate deaths.”

Foster refused orders to submit to restraints, so a five-person cell extraction team physically removed him at about 9:45 p.m.

The Sun this week received reports from the Florida departments of Corrections and Law Enforcement, the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office and the District 21 Medical Examiner.

The records show:

Foster, a 37-year-old child rapist sentenced to life in prison, was suicidal and being housed in cell C-2106 of the psychiatric dorm on the evening of May 21, 2014. A nurse saw him trying to hang himself with a t-shirt around 9 p.m. The inmate stopped, but the nurse ordered he be medically evaluated. Foster was bleeding from a deep cut on his bottom lip.

Foster refused orders to submit to restraints, so a five-person cell extraction team physically removed him at about 9:45 p.m.

Outside the cell, a doctor issued an emergency treatment order, which allows for the administration of psychotropic medications without an inmate’s consent to prevent him from harming himself or others. A nurse injected Foster with 1 mg of Ativan — a brand of lorazepam used to treat anxiety disorders. During this time, Foster was spitting and aspirating blood from his mouth.

Staff placed a cloth spit mask over Foster’s mouth. The inmate also was fitted with a suicide gown and a seizure helmet, and placed back in his cell at 10 p.m.

About two minutes later, a correctional officer and a nurse noticed Foster was not breathing. The extraction team reconvened to remove Foster, who was extracted from the cell 14 minutes after personnel noticed he was unresponsive. Five more minutes passed before CPR was initiated. The prison called 911, and Foster was rushed to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, where he was pronounced dead.

Dr. Rebecca Hamilton, the medical examiner for Lee County’s district, determined the death was a homicide. The FDLE report says Hamilton noted, “Foster had inhaled a significant amount of blood from the cuts to his lip and tongue.”

The local state Attorney’s Office came under scrutiny earlier this year after presenting the Matthew Walker case to a Charlotte County grand jury, who decided not to charge anyone.

Walker, 45, died after he was beaten by guards and had his larynx crushed during a cell extraction.

The grand jury report shows no one could be charged because the guards gave conflicting statements, evidence had been tampered with and the crime scene had been compromised.

The SAO on its own decided not to charge anyone in Foster’s homicide.

FDC spokesman McKinley Lewis said it’s not uncommon for these “administrative reviews” to follow criminal investigations.

The Miami Herald last year reported Foster spent time in the mental unit at Dade Correctional Institution, which has faced criticism for its treatment of inmates. Foster was housed there in September 2013 when Richard Mair, another mentally ill inmate, hanged himself.

Mair, serving time for murder, left a note alleging a litany of cruel acts and punishments inflicted upon the mentally ill prisoners by the prison’s corrections staff. Foster was transferred out of the prison shortly thereafter, ending up at Charlotte.

After Foster’s death, investigators found two messages painted on the walls in the prisoner’s cell. One read, “NO EQUAL PROTECTION MGT,” and was partially underlined. The other said, “D.O.C KILLED ME BY REFUSING PROTECTION.”

Efforts to reach Foster’s family this week were unsuccessful.

Akreger@sun-herald.com

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