BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – A Broward sheriff’s deputy who had been cleared by her own agency has now been charged criminally by the State Attorney’s Office with battery on an inmate who was left with black eyes and bruises after requesting a tampon in the jail.
Detention Deputy Kristen Connelly was charged with misdemeanor battery, which is punishable by up to a year in jail, in the assault on inmate Audra West, who had been booked into jail on a disorderly conduct charge while vacationing from Texas.
The beginning of the incident was caught on jailhouse security video that shows Connelly -- after a male deputy initially tried to stop her from approaching the inmate -- violently snatch West out of a chair and drag and swing her around the room before she and other deputies drag her into an inmate changing room that is not equipped with a video camera.
It was in the room where West suffered her injuries. West, who admits she cursed at the deputy when Connelly denied her a feminine product, told Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman that Connelly and other deputies beat her up inside the room outside the camera’s eye.
"I was on the floor on my stomach and (Connelly) punched me on this side of the face," West said. "And I was being kicked and stepped on from behind, and she was punching me in the face. She punched me in the eye several times."
An inmate who witnessed the incident said Connelly did nothing physically to provoke the attack and said she could hear the beating taking place inside the changing room.
Despite the video evidence showing Connelly jerking West up and, as one prosecutor put it, "forcefully drag" West into the changing room, BSO fully exonerated Connelly of using excessive force and found an allegation of conduct unbecoming of an employee unfounded.
Sheriff Scott Israel refused an interview request on the matter, but issued a written statement last year the BSO issued a written statement from him.
"The Professional Standards Committee (PSC), which is made up of a mix of BSO employees and private citizens, reviewed the video and entire IA file and recommended no discipline for all three employees," Israel wrote. "The PSC determined the actions taken were within the policy."
But after a Local 10 investigative report featuring the video aired last year, the State Attorney’s Office opened up its own investigation and formally charged Connelly with battery this week, a misdemeanor carrying up to a year in prison.
"They saw the broadcast you put on," said West’s attorney, Gary Kollin. "Thank goodness for the free press."
Connelly in a written report admitted to punching West twice with a closed fist inside the room, but said the force was necessary to restrain her. BSO said she will be suspended with pay pending the outcome of the criminal case.