No charges for officers involved in inmate death

The case involves a 46-year-old man and six law enforcement officials

The Marion County Jail is shown in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, July 6, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted July 6, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

None of the law enforcement officers involved in the November death of an inmate at the Marion County Jail have been charged with crimes, according to State Attorney Bill Gladson.

The months-long investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) concluded in April, when the findings were passed on to the state attorney, who stated in a recent memorandum that “no criminal laws were violated” in the events surrounding the inmate’s death.

Inmate Scott Whitley III, 46, died in custody on Nov. 25, 2022, when, after refusing to comply during a cell inspection, six detention deputies used pepper foam and tasers to subdue him until he could be restrained. When deputies were able to get him out of his cell, he was unresponsive and was later pronounced dead at AdventHealth Ocala.

In response to the conclusion of the investigation, Whitley’s family said they were still searching for answers.

“Scotty would have had his 47th birthday last week. Instead of celebrating with his family, they are still looking for answers,” said attorney James Slater via email on July 5, on behalf of the decedent’s sister, Pamela Whitley.

The family is working to obtain the video surveillance from within the cell where Whitley died, in an attempt to better understand the circumstances surrounding his death, Slater said.

“Although the state attorney decided not to prosecute the officers involved, that decision does not exculpate them from wrongdoing,” he said.

Whitley was in jail awaiting trial for charges of resisting an officer with violence, violating an injunction for the protection of a vulnerable adult. Whitley’s parents, with whom he lived, filed this injunction against him to remove him from their home. He had a long history of mental illness, and his parents said at times they “feared” their son, which led to the injunction.

In the year and a half before his arrest, Whitley was placed in care under the Baker Act and involuntarily committed to a mental health facility seven times. Whitley had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to the report.

Whitley’s parents told law enforcement that he was unmedicated for his condition during the altercation that led to his arrest, according to the investigation.

People with untreated schizophrenia may experience delusions and hallucinations, which often cause the individual to believe they are at risk of being harmed, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Individuals with schizophrenia are four to seven times more likely to commit violent crimes, such as assault and homicide, and four to six times more likely to exhibit general aggressive behavior, such as verbal and physical threats, compared with the general population,” according to the National Library of Medicine.

The deputies involved in Whitley’s death were suspended with pay for the duration of the investigation but have since returned to work. All six of them claimed protection as victims under Marsy’s Law, so they remained anonymous.

Over the course of the 12-minute altercation that led to Whitley’s death, the officers’ tasers were deployed 27 times. From the officers’ accounts in the investigation, they can recall at least six instances where the tasers struck Whitley’s body.

Whitley’s death was ruled a homicide as a result of “cardiac arrhythmia during physical restraint by law enforcement.” He also suffered from an enlarged heart and liver, lack of oxygen to the brain, and brain hemorrhage among other conditions. Whitley also suffered from obesity, which can exasperate these conditions, according to the autopsy report.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) opened an internal investigation on the incident to see if any policies were violated, according to spokesperson Lt. Paul Bloom. When the investigation concluded on June 26, MCSO came to the conclusion that no policies were violated in Whitley’s death, but not without recommendations for future protocol and training.

“The (investigatory) board discussed implementing more hands-on defensive tactics training,” according to a report from Inspector Sergeant Lauren Miley. “Additionally, the board agreed a policy should be created specifically for the use of spit masks.”

Spit masks were part of the restraints used on Whitley in the altercation that caused his death, according to the FDLE report.

“It was also recommended that research be done regarding the use of chemical agents on suspects that are mentally deficient,” Miley said.

The results of MCSO’s internal investigation were also shared with the state attorney’s office for review.

The Whitley family will continue to try to access the surveillance footage from the jail in the wake of the investigation conclusions.

“Scotty’s family is eager to obtain the jail video to see firsthand what happened to him leading up to his death,” Slater said.

The “Gazette” attempted to obtain this footage but was unable to as security footage from the jail is exempt from public record under Florida Statute 119.071 and 281.301. The family could obtain the footage but would be unable to share it with the press for public access.

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