Florida corrections officer charged with battery, misconduct for pepper-spraying inmate

MIAMI (AP/WSVN) – Authorities say a Florida corrections officer has been charged with battery and official misconduct for unnecessarily pepper-spraying a handcuffed inmate and then lying about it.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a news release Tuesday that the charges were brought against Col. Patrick Riggins of Everglades Correctional Institution in West Miami-Dade following a lengthy investigation with the inspector general.

“Here you have a veteran colonel coming up and pepper-spraying him for no apparent reason whatsoever,” said Fernandez Rundle.

Fernandez Rundle says inmate Mazzard McMillan was among several handcuffed inmates who were instructed to get on a dormitory floor in July 2017. Surveillance video released Tuesday showed that as McMillan was complying, Riggins pepper-sprayed him.

Investigators also say Riggins told a subordinate to write a false incident report to justify his use of the pepper spray. The report claimed McMillan was trying to slip out of his restraints.

“The actions of Officer Riggins were unacceptable and do not represent the thousands of FDC officers who work diligently to ensure the safety of the individuals in our custody,” said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones.

“It’s unprofessional, it’s abusive,” said Fernandez Rundle, “and it’s shameful to think that we have people that have the power and the ability and the access can actually take advantage and abuse inmate populations such as this.”

Riggins has been charged with one count of use of force/battery on detainee, which is a first-degree misdemeanor, and one count of official misconduct by a public servant, a third-degree felony.

“All individuals in custody should receive proper treatment and respect,” Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. “The law requires it, and our community demands it.”

Unfortunately, Riggins is just the latest South Florida corrections officer accused of crossing the line.

Last month, federal officials unsealed an indictment against Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Officer Antwan Johnson. He was charged with civil rights violations and accused of ordering an attack inside the Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center that led to the death of 17-year-old Elord Revolte.

“Johnson acknowledged and fist-bumped the juvenile who initiated the attack,” said Benjamin Greenberg, a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

While Riggins waits to learn his fate, Fernandez Rundle said she hopes this will encourage other inmates to speak up if they see abuse, adding that Riggins doesn’t represent the corrections department.

“The overwhelming majority of police officers and corrections officers are good, hardworking public servants, but every now and again, you get an example where someone has taken advantage of their authority,” she said.

Fernandez Rundle said this is an ongoing investigation, and others could be charged in connection to the incident at Everglades Correctional Institution.

Officials said Riggins will likely be discharged. Court records did not list an attorney for him.

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