Florida Prisons

Death leads to seventh criminal probe at troubled Florida prison

Quonta Howard
Quonta Howard Florida Department of Corrections

Another inmate death at a troubled Southwest Florida prison has led to a seventh criminal probe at the facility by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Quonta Howard, 35, died about 6 a.m. Tuesday at Charlotte Correctional Institution in Punta Gorda. Howard’s death is among seven open FDLE investigations underway at the prison, which has come under scrutiny for a number of deaths and inmate abuse cases.

Last month, inmate Robert Peterkin was found dead under what his family believes is suspicious circumstances. The family said they were told Peterkin hanged himself, but they suspect something more sinister was behind his death.

“My brother said to me and my eldest sister that if anything should ever happen to him that we should go after them,’’ his sister, Cecelia Martin, told the Bradenton Herald last month.

“He said nothing will be like it appears to be.’’

Their deaths come in the wake of a grand jury report, released last month, on the death of inmate Matthew Walker, whose throat was crushed and head battered during a clash with officers at the prison last year.

The medical examiner ruled Walker’s death a homicide, but neither FDLE nor the grand jury could determine who was responsible because prison staff cleaned up the crime scene and contaminated evidence. The jury was unable to indict any of the nine officers involved. All of them said they didn’t see what happened. Nearly all of them have kept their jobs.

Also last month, a former guard at the prison received a $135,000 out-of-court settlement from the state in connection with the eye-gouging of an inmate in 2008. The officer, John Pisciotta, claimed he was threatened by fellow officers and eventually fired because he reported what happened — including which guard did the eye gouging — to authorities. As a result of his testimony, that officer was arrested, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

In April, Charlotte’s warden, Tim Reid, was given the department’s highest leadership award by Secretary Julie Jones, who praised him for programs to help rehabilitate inmates. He has recently been transferred to Suwannee Correctional Institution, which is also the focus of a number of criminal investigations into inmate abuses.

DOC officials said Reid’s transfer was routine and not related to the deaths or the grand jury report, which called Walker’s death “tragic, senseless and avoidable.’’

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