Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Guard Who Never Owned Up to His Crime

by Kay Lee

I am so frustrated by numerous identically fruitless attempts to stop prison guard violence, especially in Florida, but of course I, like many others, will continue to seek justice.

A federal case should be made out of the latest travesty. The recent acquittal of Timothy “Big Red” Thornton and two other guards involved in the killing of Prisoner of Florida, Frank Valdes, has angered a lot of people across the nation.

Frank Valdes was pulled from his cell at the Florida State Prison at Starke in July 1999 dead, with 22 broken ribs and fractures of his sternum, vertebrae, nose and jaw, along with numerous internal injuries. There were boot prints on his face, neck, abdomen and back. Nine guards were originally charged in the crime. At first they claimed Valdes “did it to himself”, but by the time they reached court over two years later, they had turned themselves into humanitarians who “might have broken his ribs trying to revive him”.

This was a case that should have been easy to win–and might have been won–if the trial had been moved completely out of the North Florida area (aka “Redneck Riviera”) with its proliferation of small prison towns.

The finding of innocence was supposedly based on the premise that, since nine officers were involved, the court had to determine the one ‘killing blow’ and who struck it–or all would go free. How in the world are we to ever know which was ‘the killing blow’ and who delivered it? Does the medical examiner know? Do the guards even know? Of course not, but somehow this detail becomes our impediment to justice.

How can a jury containing a guard deciding a case against prison guards be considered impartial?

Why was the testimony of the remorseful prison guard not heard by the jury?

Why did Thornton’s high-priced attorney (whom the Guard’s Union hired) feel it necessary to use the popular guard catch-phrase, most cunningly disguised in a symbolic gesture that spoke louder than words, “All Inmates Are Liars”?

I’ll tell you why: Because that’s all guards have ever needed to say to clear themselves of their own perjuries and other ‘improprieties’ in Florida.

The presiding judge addressed both the court and the jury prior to closing arguments and acknowledged that he realized that just about everyone present was either related to, was friends with, or saw each other at the local stores. Did he honestly believe that conversations regarding the trial never took place up to this point or even before the jury was selected?

Once the trial was staged in the guard’s back yard, acquittals were predictable.

I have letters from a number of prisoners who speak of the horrors the Florida State Prison system’s errant guards, including Thornton and Griffis, were inflicting even before the Valdes killing.

Here’s a little backgrounder on “Big Red” Thornton, one of the guards present at the murder, but somehow deemed legally innocent by Florida justice. It shows the kind of people the DOC employees and protects. [Prison captain twice arrested on the outside.]

“During his 14 years as a corrections officer, Thornton’s use of force to restrain inmates more than 30 times was always deemed justified. His personnel file shows the 6-foot, 230-pound guard has never faced disciplinary action.

But while working as a bouncer at Bobby’s Hideaway in Waldo in 1996, Thornton was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery. Alachua County sheriff’s deputies said he tried to break up an argument between his brother and 24-year-old Scott Petty. He allegedly took Petty outside and kept hitting him.

Petty received two broken ribs, a fractured eye socket and a broken nose. The charge was dropped when Petty decided not to press the matter.

In 1986, a year after Thornton became a prison guard, Starke police charged him with burglary and battery. They said he and a companion broke into a Starke motel and assaulted another man. Thornton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge and the burglary charged was dropped.”

Now Thornton and another three of the involved guards (one from an earlier trial) are free men–because no one in a position of power in Florida cared enough to win this case. Families and prisoners and advocates are greatly and rightly worried about the clear and foreboding message this court sent to the prisoners and guards in Florida: If you want to kill, just make sure you are wearing a DOC uniform and your prey is a prisoner!

Unfortunately, I guess no one has thought of filing federal conspiracy and murder charges against the guards. Because of dual jurisdiction, from what I understand, federal law can apply (like with Terry Nichols) and 18 USC which makes murder associated with torture a federal crime, This was torture by any standard, and NO DOUBLE JEOPARDY attaches. Under federal law, these guards can be tried away from a kangaroo court of relatives, supporters and friends.

The threats and abuses continue in the prisons throughout Florida, only now guards invoke the name ‘Valdes’ as a mutually understood threat to frightened prisoners. Ever since the Valdes murder, guards all over Florida have been using his death to threaten prisoners with the same fate.

The lives of other prisoners are at great risk: look for more prisoners kicking themselves in the face with their own boots, breaking 22 ribs by themselves or ‘committing suicide’ in a variety of unlikely ways.

All I can say is, SEND IN THE FEDS!

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail