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Schizophrenic man viciously beaten by deputies in sandwich dispute, lawsuit claims

Charles Williams put in jail's general population, pummeled in cell, suit says

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A man diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental disorders was badly beaten by Broward Sheriff's Office deputies in his cell after he was improperly placed in the general population of the main Broward County jail, according to a lawsuit filed in Broward County court against Sheriff Scott Israel.

Photos taken of Charles Williams on the day after the beating -- which occurred while deputies were removing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from his cell -- showed both of his eyes swollen shut with a laceration on one eyebrow, according to the lawsuit.

When his mother took him to the hospital after his release from jail on a trespassing charge, it was revealed that Williams had also suffered a broken orbital eye socket, according to the lawsuit filed by Williams' attorney, Gregory Durden.

"(Deputies) come in and find he had food," Durden said. "He didn't understand it was contraband, and even the officers described that he didn't understand why he couldn't do this. But that's what schizophrenia is. He didn't understand why he couldn't have (a sandwich). He wanted it for later."

Then came the beating.

"One of the officers took a fist and hit him just beneath his eye. There's an orbital bone there and he fractured it," Durden said. "After he got punched in the face, he was knocked out, and then they began to kick him and stomp him. He had more bruises than just on his face."

The supervising deputy, Sgt. Spencer Steele, wrote in a report that the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Williams began to curse at him while he was confiscating the sandwich and that at one point he jumped from his bunk with balled-up fists and lunged in his direction.

"Once again, not knowing his intentions and being in fear for my safety, I immediately turned and struck him with a closed fist in the facial area," Steele wrote in his use-of-force report on the incident.

Another deputy in the cell, Michael Metzler, wrote that Williams "charged" at Steele in an "overt, aggressive manner." Metzler, too, punched Williams.

"Fearing or the safety of Sgt. Steele, I defended him by striking inmate Williams with a closed fist on the right side of his face," Metzler wrote.

Despite those blows, both deputies claimed that Williams began to swing his limbs wildly in an effort to resist before he was taken to the ground and restrained.

In a videotaped deposition given in April, Williams, who often seemed confused and at times nearly vacant during the deposition, said he "blacked out" when he was initially punched in the face.

"Were you awake when the whole time they were beating you?" asked Dan Losey, BSO's hired outside attorney.

"Yes," answered an apparently confused Williams.

"You never got knocked out?" Losey asked.

"When he punched me, I just blacked out," Williams said.

"OK. Was that the first punch from Deputy Steele?" Losey asked.

"Yes," Williams said.

"So, when you get that first punch, you're blacked out, and when do you wake up?" Losey asked.

"After they beat me," Williams said.

Williams said Steele punched him in the face after threatening him.

"He said, 'Open your mouth again. I'm going to punch you in the face,'" Williams claimed.

When he was released from jail the next day, his mother, Katrina Williams, said her son was unrecognizable.

"I walked right past him because I didn't know who he was," she said. "And at the time, he wasn't able to open his eyes, so he didn't see me."

She said there could be no justification for the severity of her son's injuries inflicted by trained deputies.

"They didn't have to beat him like that," she said.

Durden agreed that the beating, which was never internally investigated by BSO, was unnecessary.

"There's no way he should have been beaten up like this," Durden said. "Charles threw no punches at all. He didn't fight with them. You don't hit somebody in the face like that. That's not what you do. There are different ways of restraining him."

Israel, who was not yet in office in October 2012 when the beating occurred, claims in court filings that Williams' injuries were due not to his agency's actions but to Williams' own "negligence."

The suit alleges that deputies used unreasonable force against Williams, but Durden said the larger issue is that Armor Correctional Health Services, which provides health services at the jail and is also named in the suit, failed to properly screen Williams as mentally ill and place him in the jail's general population rather than in the infirmary.

Records show that Williams refused to see medical personnel when he was booked into the jail, and his mugshot shows an obviously troubled Williams with eyes closed, so withdrawn that a BSO employee is using the back of his hand to hold up the inmate's head for the camera. Durden said Williams had been off his Haldol medication for weeks before the arrest.

"He's schizophrenic. I mean, you can look at him and tell something's wrong with him," Durden said. "What they did was put him in the general population. Had he been in the infirmary he would have been treated differently, and this wouldn't have happened at all."

Armor has a contract with BSO worth about $28 million a year to provide health care services at the jail, including mental health screening. Shane Gunderson, director of client services for the Broward County Office of the Public Defender, said he has had serious issues with Armor's performance for years.

"Armor is neglecting a lot of these seriously mentally ill people, and I'm getting a lot of complaints, higher than normal," Gunderson said. "They don't know what they're doing over there. It's shameful."

Gunderson points to another lawsuit filed against the sheriff involving another schizophrenic inmate, Raleigh Priester, who starved to death in the jail in 2012, the same year that Williams was beaten. Citing privacy laws, Armor declined to comment on the Williams case, but in a statement said that it is "committed to delivering quality patient care."

Williams, meanwhile, has struggled to find a place a live and since the beating has been in and out jail. He is currently jailed on relatively minor charges.

"He needs the proper medical attention and therapy to get through whatever is going on with him," she said.

She said she couldn't allow her son, now 26, to live in her home because of his unpredictable behavior and the fact that she has a young daughter living with her. His current jail stint came after he violated an injunction restricting him from coming to the home. Her son was once a loving and protective oldest brother to her other children, she said.

"It's very heart-wrenching," she said. "I want to save you, but I don't have the tools to save you."

She said the jail beating only accelerated his fall into chaos. Durden said that jail, where he is now kept outside the general population and is getting the medication he needs, is one of the few places where his client finds security. He said one reason he felt so strongly about the case is that his own brother has serious mental issues.

"But he's a Vietnam vet, so there's a place for him," Durden said. "There's no place for Charles. When he gets out, he's going to fall through the cracks again. Nobody cares about people who have mental health issues. They don't have a lobby for them. ... I want justice for him and people like him."

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