Fla. guard linked to near-fatal beating was promoted despite long string of alleged abuses

Over a decade-long career at Florida’s largest women’s prison, Keith Turner has been accused of trading cigarettes for sex, insubordination, throwing inmate complaints into the trash, harassing inmates for their religious beliefs, kissing and groping them, stealing canteen items and dousing prisoners with noxious chemicals for no reason.

Lowell Correctional Institution did not fire him. Instead, he was promoted to lieutenant.

On Aug. 21, Turner was allegedly one of a group of staff members who savagely beat Cheryl Weimar and left the inmate paralyzed from the neck down.

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Cheryl Weimar was severely beaten by multiple officers at Lowell Correctional Institution, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. The Department of Corrections is seeking her early release from prison, which would relieve prison health officials of the responsibility of caring for her.

Now the attorney for Weimar — and a Florida lawmaker — want to know why Turner still had a job on Aug. 21 despite years of serious complaints, much less a job with the rank of lieutenant, which pays him $41,347. The beating of Weimar is the subject of an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Ryan Andrews, Weimar’s attorney, is suing the Florida Department of Corrections and the corrections officers linked to the beating. The department has refused to name them, although Andrews says he has figured out the identities of Turner and one other corrections officer. After the beating of Weimar, the staffers were reassigned to keep them away from any contact with inmates.

According to prison system records obtained by the Miami Herald, in 2009, an inmate said Turner and other officers were harassing her because of her religious beliefs and that she feared for her life if released from confinement, a more restrictive form of custody.

That same year, an inmate said she was tackled by Turner for no reason.

In 2012, he was accused by a superior officer of insubordination for objecting to an assignment. That same year, he allegedly handcuffed an inmate and threateningly uttered “Go ahead and complain. Give me a reason.”

In 2014, a former Lowell inmate told authorities that several corrections officers, including Turner, would routinely exchange bootleg cigarettes for oral sex. The woman said she witnessed Turner receiving oral sex “three to four times” in a hallway near U dorm. That same year he was accused of depriving inmates of their meals.

In 2015, he was accused of having sex numerous times with an inmate in J dorm. The inmate feared she had become pregnant. The records do not indicate whether she was, in fact, found to be pregnant and, if so, what happened after that. Another inmate reported seeing Turner and an inmate kissing followed by Turner passing the inmate an unidentified object. Turner was also accused of stealing canteen items from one inmate and distributing them to others.

In 2016, he was reported for having “inappropriate conversations.”

In 2017, he was accused of groping an inmate while making inappropriate comments. A separate complaint said he made sexual comments to a prisoner. A third complaint said he sprayed noxious chemicals on an inmate for no reason, and another said he slammed an inmate’s head against a wall.

The 2017 records are the first that identify Turner as a lieutenant.

In 2018, an inmate alleged Lt. Turner was trying to kill her. A second said he body-slammed her into a chair, and a third accused him of dragging her across the compound. Two other inmates said he used chemical spray on them for no reason.

A 2019 report by an inmate accused Turner of using racial slurs. Another said he had taken an inmate’s complaint — that Turner had lied in a disciplinary report — and tossed it in the trash.

Still another complaint from this year — this one from a fellow employee — said Turner left a handcuffed inmate outside in 93 degree heat for three hours, refusing to let anyone bring her water. He also allegedly called her a “fat pig” and other vulgar names.

“Everyone is afraid of retaliation from this Lt and now is keeping their mouth shut about this particular situation,” the staffer’s complaint said.

Thirteen other pages from the records obtained by the Herald were redacted because of ongoing investigations.

Most of the records provide little clarity on whether the alleged behavior was punished. Some indicate that the matters were referred to management. One complaint, made to the governor’s office, was sent back to the prison for processing. In several of the records the inmates’ names are not redacted, suggesting that the complaints were not upheld.

The Department of Corrections was asked to provide details on how the complaints were resolved and whether any record exists explaining the rationale for promoting Turner to lieutenant. The department had not complied by the end of business Friday.

Friday evening FDC sent a general statement, attributed to Secretary Mark Inch: “The Florida Department of Corrections has processes in place to identify, report, investigate, terminate and arrest, as applicable, those who violate our standards of professional conduct. I have made it very clear that we have zero tolerance for abuse and have taken swift action to hold correctional officers accountable, when we have substantiated evidence against a staff member for misconduct.”

“We will continue to fully cooperate in FDLE’s open and active case and will exercise the patience necessary to get all of facts. If any individual is found to have acted outside their authorities, we will take action against them.”

Andrews said the FDC had ample notice that Turner was a threat, and added that it’s incomprehensible he wasn’t fired for what appears to be a long history of egregious behavior.

“No one can reasonably say it’s not that big of a deal that guards are trading oral sex for cigarettes,” Andrews said.

“There shouldn’t be any allegations of guards sleeping with inmates,” he added. “It’s a completely avoidable problem.”

Cheryl A. Weimar in her prison mug shot, before she was beaten and nearly killed by staff members at Lowell Correctional Institution. Florida Department of Corrections

The Herald also obtained a document referencing a second officer allegedly involved in the beating of Weimar and named in Andrews’ lawsuit.

Ryan Dionne, who is paid a salary of $33,500, has an arrest record describing an incident of domestic violence while off duty.

A woman he was dating called 911 and, according to the 2013 police arrest, said he had “beat the sh-t out of her before fleeing. She had bite marks on her neck and forehead.

Dionne, located later, claimed self-defense, but was determined to be the aggressor and arrested. The case was dropped.

Andrews said though the case didn’t go through, it still should have disqualified him from being hired by FDC, especially to work at the state’s main prison for women.

“Defendant Dionne has a conscious disregard for the health and safety of the female inmates, including plaintiff, that he has a duty to guard and protect as a correctional officer,” the lawsuit says.

State Rep. Dianne Hart, a prison reform advocate who has visited Lowell, located near Ocala, said Turner is a predator who never should have been promoted. But she said he’s not the only officer in the Florida prison system who has continued to work despite a string of complaints.

Ryan Dionne Marion County Sheriff's Office

Hart said there needs to be more oversight of the system. She’s personally toured dozens of prisons and recently tried to visit Weimar but was told she couldn’t go back into the medical section.

“This will not get covered up as long as I have blood running in my veins,” Hart said.

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