Jail Officer Dies After Fight With Inmate
BARTOW | A Polk County Jail detention sergeant died Tuesday from complications after surgery to repair injuries suffered in an altercation with an “out-of-control” inmate, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Sgt. Ronnie Brown, 48, underwent surgery for broken vertebrae Monday, eight days after the fight at the South County Jail, and he died Tuesday morning at Winter Haven Hospital, Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Brown is the first Polk detention officer to die in the line of duty, sheriff’s officials said.
Brown was injured in a confrontation Aug. 30 with inmate Terrence Barnett, 28, who had broken the sprinkler system inside his cell, Judd said.
When Brown and other deputies went into the cell, Barnett struggled with them, shoving Brown against a concrete wall at the South County Jail, and Brown fell onto the concrete floor, Judd said.
Detectives are conducting a homicide investigation into the death, the sheriff said.
While charges in the incident have been filed against Barnett, the 6-foot-10-inch, 225-pound inmate, no charges have been filed yet related to Brown’s death, Judd said.
Barnett was being transferred to a jail in another county Tuesday evening, officials said.
He was being held at the Polk jail following his arrest on a murder charge stemming from the 2007 Highlands County slaying of Bryan “Red” Fanning.
Barnett also faces numerous other charges, including battering another inmate. His violent behavior at the jail resulted in his removal to an isolation area, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“He was known to be bad,” Judd said. “They didn’t just charge into the cell looking for a fistfight … They tried to talk to him. They tried to move him out. But he wasn’t having any of that.”
Barnett was in isolation Aug. 30 when he became agitated and demanded to be transferred to the Central County Jail in Bartow, an arrest report said. He threatened to break the sprinkler head in his room if he was not moved, and deputies told him he would be placed on suicide watch.
The news angered Barnett, who claimed to have taken six muscle relaxer pills. He broke the sprinkler head and refused to leave the cell. When Brown and Sgt. Bobby Russell went inside to remove him, Barnett shoved Brown, causing him to hit the concrete wall and to fall onto his back, the report said.
The officers pulled Brown out of the cell and relocked the door. Barnett threatened the deputies with jagged pieces of his plastic storage bin when Lt. Gary Casini arrived with a device that fires balls containing pepper powder. Instead of opening the cell door, Casini opened the flap through which food trays can be inserted and began firing pepper balls into the cell. Barnett grabbed the gun and tried to pull it out of Casini’s hands. When deputy James Pitts attempted to break Barnett’s hold, he was scratched with a piece of plastic, the report said.
Finally, the pepper balls took effect and Barnett surrendered. Complaining of shortness of breath, he was handcuffed and shackled and was taken to Lake Wales Hospital. Judd declined to say whether Barnett had ingested the pills, citing the ongoing investigation.
Early the next morning, Brown was taken by ambulance to Lake Wales Hospital to be treated for his injured back. He was later released,.
The following afternoon, Sept. 1, Brown found himself in intense pain and could barely move, Judd said. That time, he was taken to Winter Haven Hospital, where his back fracture was discovered. The following day, Brown underwent back surgery.
On Tuesday morning, Brown’s wife, Tina, arrived for a visit, and found him dead in his hospital room, sheriff’s officials said.
Brown is the first Sheriff’s Office employee to be killed in the line of duty since Deputy Matt Williams was shot and killed in 2006 by Angilo Freeland, who was later killed by officers. Brown was hired as a detention deputy in October 1989 and was promoted to sergeant in April 1997. He supervised at the South County Jail in Frostproof. In 2007, he and two other detention deputies were awarded meritorious service medals from the Sheriff’s Office for saving an inmate’s life with CPR.
“It’s a hard, tough job, and sometimes a thankless job … Ronnie Brown was one of those special people,” said Capt. Jim Hogan, who supervised Brown. “He was my friend. He was a family man. He was a funny guy. As much pain as he was in, he still found a way to make us laugh.”
Brown met his wife at the Sheriff’s Office. She was also a detention deputy, assigned to the inmate booking area in Bartow. They have a 16-year-old daughter, Hogan said. “There’s a lot of members who are hurting right now,” Hogan said.