Culture of brutality reigned at state prison in Florida Panhandle

Few people knew the depths of terror, misery and pain inflicted upon Florida’s state prison inmates more profoundly than Capt. James Kirkland.

During 14 years as a corrections officer, Kirkland was repeatedly accused — and not just by inmates, but by fellow corrections officers — of abusing inmates at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley. They said he contaminated inmates’ food, sprayed them with chemicals for no reason and threatened to break their fingers and to kill them, according to Florida Department of Corrections and court documents obtained by the Miami Herald.

These practices flourished under former Warden Samuel Culpepper, a tough disciplinarian brought in to clean up the troubled institution. Under Culpepper, inmates in confinement at Northwest Florida said they were stripped naked or down to their boxers at the whim of guards and had all their belongings and their mattresses taken away, then left around the clock on a cold metal bunk for 72 hours or more, with nothing to hold, not even a Bible.

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“The guards were standing at the door, all they had to do is pull him out, and instead they let him sit there,’’ said Randall Berg, the attorney representing Johnson’s mother, Evelyn Brady, who settled a lawsuit last year for $175,000.

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