Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Inmate's Death Was Homicide Agents Search 7 Guards' Houses

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Inmate's Death Was Homicide Agents Search 7 Guards' Houses

Article excerpt

Authorities began a murder investigation yesterday into the death of Florida State Prison inmate Frank Valdez, who officials have determined was beaten to death at the prison last week.

On Tuesday night agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement searched the homes of seven of nine corrections officers who have been placed on leave with pay pending the results of the state's investigation, said FDLE spokeswoman Liz Hirst.

The Tuesday searches resulted in "major developments," Hirst said. The evidence collected, which Hirst would not disclose, was sent to the FDLE crime lab in Jacksonville for analysis, she said.

Hirst said autopsy results and other evidence have led authorities to conclude that Valdez was beaten to death, and as a result they have declared his death a homicide and increased the intensity of their investigation.

"It's not just the death of an inmate, but a homicide," Hirst said. "It's time for some folks to come forward and tell us what happened."

Valdez, 36, died Saturday after a violent fight with correctional officers who used extreme force to remove him from his cell after Valdez refused to cooperate with their demands. Valdez was on Death Row for the 1987 murder of a correctional officer in West Palm Beach.

Spencer Mann, an investigator for the State Attorney's Office in Gainesville, said officials have determined Valdez died from "multiple blunt trauma from the result of a severe beating."

Mann, whose office is assisting in the FDLE inquiry and will decide who may face criminal charges, said officials now want to determine who had custody of Valdez at the time of the beating, where the beating took place, and if there are witnesses who haven't yet come forward. He said his office has been swamped with calls from people in the corrections community offering tips and information about the case.

Hirst refuted claims made Tuesday by an attorney for the correctional officers who said the officers fought with Valdez and injured him but did not cause his death.

Bill Johnson, an attorney for the Police Benevolent Association that represents the officers, said Valdez intentionally injured himself after he was returned safely to a cell after the fight with the guards. …

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