Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Florida Deputy Indicted |on Civil Rights Charge

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A grand jury indicted a South Florida sheriff's deputy on charges of brutalizing a prison inmate in a medical ward and then lying about it to federal investigators.

Felony counts for falsification of records and deprivation of constitutional rights were filed against Deputy William Wheeler from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, based on his violent encounter with an inmate in October 2013.

Prosecutors say that while working as a corrections officer, Wheeler allegedly smashed the inmate's head into a wall, took him to the ground and kneed him in the face inside the medical ward of a Belle Glade-area prison.

The indictment calls into question the account included in Wheeler's incident report, which states that the inmate was not complying with instructions and made threats, glaring in Wheeler's direction "while gargling up saliva."

The report claims Wheeler threw the inmate to the ground after the inmate began "digging his fingernails" into Wheeler.

"I gave [the inmate] a knee strike to his upper torso area which caused him to finally release his grip," Wheeler wrote.

But the grand jury reviewed video evidence of the incident and found probable cause to believe Wheeler's story was a fabrication.

According to the allegations, the footage reveals that Wheeler's violence was unjustified and violated the inmate's constitutional rights.

The grand jury charges that Wheeler misled federal investigators to believe the inmate had assaulted him first.

Wheeler "knowingly [made] false entries in a record with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation," according to the indictment.

Wheeler is being prosecuted under Title 18 federal statutes.

The criminal case was brought by Vanita Gupta of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, along with United States Attorney Wifredo Ferrer in the Southern District of Florida.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's West Palm Beach branch contributed to the investigation, according to a press release.

The maximum sentences for the falsification charge and the deprivation of rights charge are 20 and 10 years, respectively.

The inmate is not named in the indictment. An attorney for Wheeler could not be reached for comment on the charges.

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