The Florida Department of Corrections is investigating what’s been described as a severe assault by prison guards against an inmate who is the former brother-in-law of a state lawmaker. The beating left the prisoner with a broken jaw, broken nose, broken cheekbone and a fractured eye socket.
Carlton Hart, 51, was allegedly assaulted by four prison guards last week (July 23) at the Central Florida Reception Center in Orlando after he complained about a corrections officer cutting him while removing plastic handcuffs from his wrists as he was being taken for a dental visit.
Hart was transferred to Lake Butler Correctional after the beating, and had surgery on his jaw on Tuesday. According to officials with the medical staff there, he will have his mouth wired shut after surgery for six weeks and be put on a liquid diet.
Hart is the former brother-in-law of Tampa Democratic state Rep. Dianne Hart, who has visited more than two dozen prisons this year in an effort to provide oversight to the corrections system.
“Whoever is responsible for this needs to go to jail,” she says.
However, the four corrections officers who were allegedly involved in the beating are still currently working at the Reception Center, which bothers the lawmaker.
“I was told that the guards are no longer in contact with any inmates, but I still have grave concerns about that,” she says. “I believe that the moment you know that guards are involved, put them on some type of administrative leave, period. Take them out of the facilities. But they’re in a training center somewhere in the facility.”
The incident took place just days after a video of another Florida inmate surfaced, taken from inside a North Florida prison with a smuggled cell phone. It happened at Lake Correctional Institute near Clermont in Lake County. The Department of Corrections said last week that three officers involved in that attack had been fired and arrested.
Hart said she wanted to speak with Carlton on Monday, but was told to hold off by Department of Corrections officials until an investigation is completed.
Family members are angry about the lack of communication from prison officials about the incident. Carlton’s sister, Patricia Hart Scott, said she learned of the beating on the day of the incident from another inmate who saw the condition that Carlton was in when he arrived at Lake Butler. She said she then made several phone calls to try to speak to prison officials there for two days, without ever hearing directly from anyone.
Patricia then called her other brother James, who contacted the FBI and the Inspector General with the Department of Corrections to inform them about the beating. James then reached out to Rep. Dianne Hart, his former wife, who was elected last fall to represent Florida in the House District 61 seat that represents most of Tampa.
James Hart spoke to Carlton on Sunday. He says that the incident happened after Carlton verbally objected to being cut while guards cut off his plastic handcuffs.
“So when they cut him, he said, ‘y’all cut me, you need to fix this and clean it up.’ So he told me that at that point a black officer called him out and said, ‘Come on. We’re going to take care of it.’ He walked out of the cell, and four officers jumped on him right there. That’s what my brother told me.”
Dianne Hart says that her ex brother-in-law may very well have said something to anger the guards, but says that could never justify what happened to him.
“I do know that Carlton may have said something,” she says. “That’s why I wanted to talk to him, because I really wanted the whole story. I wanted him to be truthful and honest with me, because at the end of the day, whatever he did, didn’t warrant him being beat down the way he was beat up.”
Carlton Hart was sentenced in 2008 to a fifteen-year prison term on charges of being a felon who was found to be in possession of a firearm and possessing more than 20 grams of marijuana.
Update: The Florida Department of Corrections responded to this report shortly after it was posted. Here it is in its entirety:
“The Florida Department of Corrections is aware of this incident and takes it, and all allegations of abuse or mistreatment of inmates, seriously. The FDC Office of Inspector General is conducting a thorough investigation. The Office of Inspector General, along with the leadership at Central Florida Reception Center, have a track record of ensuring that any individuals involved in misconduct are held fully accountable.
The FDC and leadership at CFRC have zero tolerance for staff who act inappropriately and in contrary to our core values.
While the investigation is active and ongoing, releasable information related to this incident is very limited. When the investigation is complete, the report will be made available to the public.”