FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Broward Sheriff’s Office exonerated Deputy Kristen Connelly after allegations from inmate Audra West that Connelly had grabbed her for no reason and dragged her into a strip search room, where she was beaten.
The exoneration, which was supported by Sheriff Scott Israel, came despite West’s obvious injuries, which included a badly blackened eye and bruises on her face and body, and a damning video clearly showing Connelly violently wrenching West up from her chair and flinging her around the room before dragging her, with the help of other deputies into the strip search room.
But now a jury has convicted Connelly in court of battery, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
"Six people believed her, while the sheriff’s office rejected her account of how she was beaten," West’s civil attorney, Gary Kollin, said.
Connelly alleged after the attack that it was West who was battered her. Connelly said West became verbally abusive after being denied a tampon, according to a BSO report.
The state attorney’s office rejected Connelly’s case against West, noting that West never "presented a physical threat to the deputy before being forcefully dragged out of her chair into a room with four other deputies, where Audra West was allegedly beaten."
It wasn't until Local 10 News obtained the video and aired it on television roughly a year after the incident that the state attorney's office reopened the investigation and charged Connelly with battery.
"If it weren’t for the expose that (Local 10 News) did on the TV, this detention deputy would have gone free," Kollin said.
Connelly, however, is going free.
Broward County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren sentenced Connelly to pay court costs of $645 and restitution in an amount not yet determined. Kollin called it an outrageously light sentence.
"There's nothing there for her to receive anger management counseling," Kollin said. "There's nothing there for probation. There's nothing there for jail time."
Lerner-Wren said she couldn't comment as the case isn’t officially closed, but denied she has given Connolly a break.
"She should have gotten time in custody so she could see what it is to be treated by people like herself," Kollin said.
He said his client, West, who declined comment after the conviction, was disappointed in the sentence but still relieved to see some justice done.
"The public here has voted," Kollin said. "They have said this deputy is guilty. This deputy is wrong."
Connelly, who had been suspended with pay when she was criminally charged, is now suspended without pay.
The BSO has not commented on her future with the agency.
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