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Four Florida prison officers denied bond in death of mentally ill prisoner who flung urine

Miami Herald - 9/23/2022

Four state corrections officers accused of beating to death a prisoner at the Dade Correctional Institution near Florida City earlier this year were denied bond on Friday.

The decision to keep the officers jailed came after the lead investigator testified it took them more than five minutes to escort the prisoner —a diminutive man with mental problems — down a 80-yard walkway that had no surveillance cameras.

When Ronald Gene Ingram, 60, entered the hallway he was fine, prosecutors and witnesses claimed. But when he emerged, they said, he could barely walk, had trouble breathing and required assistance to get inside a van that was waiting to transfer him and other prisoners to a facility in Ocala.

The four prison officers were charged in April with second-degree murder, conspiracy, aggravated battery of an elderly adult and cruel treatment of a detainee. Friday’s hearing before MIami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler was only to determine whether any of the four would be released from jail before trial. A trial date has not yet been set.

“All of these individuals were beating this man to death, together,” Pooler said. “The fact that it was out of camera range indicates to me it’s something they know that was wrong and wanted to hide.”

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner called the death of the 133-pound man a homicide and determined the beating broke 10 of his ribs. At least one of those punctured a lung and killed him within two hours.

Read More: 10 officers on leave, one resigned, after Dade Correctional inmate dies in prison van

Ingram — a diagnosed schizophrenic serving a life sentence for murder — was beaten, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys, after he tossed urine on one of the guards while refusing to comply with orders to leave his cell for the transfer early in the morning hours of Feb. 14.

Defense attorneys for the guards argued that the state’s attempt to deny bond was based simply on hearsay and failed to prove intent. They said there was no DNA linking Ingram to any of the guards and said other guards who may have been involved were giving statements after being offered immunity.

At one point during Friday’s hearing, attorney Ed Martinez, who represents one of the guards, asked Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Garrett Carlisle why he didn’t arrest another guard who admitted striking Ingram but wasn’t charged after testifying on the state’s behalf.

“I’d have to defer to the state,” said the FDLE agent.

“Mr Ingram died a terrible death,” Martinez told the judge before her decision. “But they have to prove who did it and intent.”

Christopher Rolon, 29, Ronald Connor, 24, Kirk Walton, 34 and Jeremy Godbolt, 28, were arrested earlier this year after Ingram was discovered dead in a locked off section of a transport van after a five-hour trip from the Dade Correctional Institution near Florida City to a prison in Ocala. On the floor of the van next to him was a brown paper bag with uneaten vegetables and a sandwich that had been given to him during the ride. It was a ride that also included two stops, at least one in which prisoners were permitted outside to stretch.

No one at any time testified or said they noticed Ingram incapacitated during the trip. He did not exit the van during the two stops, witnesses said. Yet the four guards have denied using any type of excessive force that could have killed Ingram.

According to statements from other guards and the warrant for the officer’s arrests, Ingram was approached in his single cell in the prison’s mental health unit by Godbolt and another guard at about 3:30 a.m. on Valentine’s Day. While refusing to leave his cell for the trip to Ocala, he tossed urine on Godbolt. The officers called help to “extract” Ingram. At one point Godbolt, who admitted to slapping Ingram, went back to the man’s cell to retrieve his shoes for the trip.

Then at 3:48 a.m., Ingram, accompanied by several guards, entered a hall and walkway that leads to the control room and exit where the van was waiting. But it took more than five minutes before the men came into view again, according to Assistant State Attorney Tim Vandergiesen. And when they emerged, Ingram was clearly having difficulty breathing and moving and needed help to get into a van.

Vandergiesen said a witness said Godbolt told her that he’d [Ingram] “never throw piss on another person again.”

Prosecutors claim Sgt. Godbolt slapped Ingram repeatedly and that other officers joined in, even though Ingram “was handcuffed and not fighting back,” one witness said. After crumpling to the ground, the warrant says, the officers continued to “kick and stomp” Ingram. When he finally got up, three officers continued to “strike” and taunt him.

Multiple witnesses said the officers conspired to lie about the incident. Rolon allegedly told one officer “don’t worry about anything... they have to prove everything first,” the warrant said.

Several family members of officers attended the hearing. Godbolt’s father, a pastor, said his son wasn’t violent and that he’d never even heard him swear. The girlfriend of another guard said if her boyfriend went to prison, she’d likely have to move out of the home they share with a child.

The testimony didn’t sway Judge Pooler, who said that the threat of a 25-year prison sentence was “very good incentive to flee.”

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