Florida Inmate Starves to Death, Unable to Reach His Food after Officers Paralyzed Him

Screenshot:  Bexar County Jail (Fair Use)
Screenshot: Bexar County Jail (Fair Use)

“My neck is broke. I’m paralyzed,” said Craig Ridley from a wheelchair. “You’re bullsh*tting. You’re just trying to get a lawsuit,” responded a corrections officer.

Ridley laid on the floor of his cell for the next five days pleading for help as officers dropped trays of food he couldn’t reach. Just hours before, officers tackled him to the ground, dislocating his neck. A report by the Miami Herald, including details from a 383-page investigation by The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has shined a light on the hidden story of Ridley’s death.

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FDLE’s report found Ridley died because of his injuries and starvation. His fellow inmates and family members told investigators his death may have been a cover up.

Ridley was sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum on attempted murder charges in 2007. The morning of Sept. 8, 2017, correctional officers got into a struggle with Ridley, tackling him to the ground face first. According to the video footage, he was brought a wheelchair after telling the officers he couldn’t walk. He was taken to solitary confinement and officers propped up him on the cell’s toilet. He fell over, breaking his nose.

An inmate signaled to the officers that Ridley was lying in a pool of his own blood. Ridley was finally taken to see a doctor, Jean Dure, who concluded there was nothing wrong with him and conducted no neurology tests despite the lifeless appearance of Ridley’s limbs and his inability to move on his own, according to the FDLE.

More about the case from Miami Herald:

That afternoon, Ridley was returned to a confinement cell, this time with no cellmate. Prison staff walked by 19 times that day without entering to check on him, although they occasionally shined a flashlight into his cell, security footage shows. On Sept. 9, staffers walked by 44 times without entering to check on him, then passed by 48 times on Sept. 10, another 41 times on Sept. 11, and 18 times on Sept. 12. No one changed his sheets or offered him a shower.

At least 11 inmates in his cell block reported that Ridley never moved from his bunk, did not pick up his food trays, and that the officers ignored him and said he was faking.

One correctional officer noticed on Sept. 12 that Ridley was mumbling unintelligibly and hadn’t moved, per the FDLE’s report. He was taken to Memorial Hospital at 1 a.m. the next morning. By the time his sister, Diane Ridley Gatewood, got to him, he’d been intubated. Ridley died the following month. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

According to the Miami Herald, 450 incarcerated individuals die in Florida state prisons per year. As expected, prison guards and correctional officers often walk free from the traumas they impose on inmates leaving them injured or dead. Ridley’s daughter, Jatoon Moss, hopes to change that with a federal suit against the corrections officers, medical staff and secretary of the Department of Corrections.

“They think they’re above the system and they can make this go away,” Moss said of the state prison system. But they’re wrong. It’s not just my father,” she said to the Miami Herald. “We have to get as much light as we can on this issue, especially for the Black community. My father was a Black man. I am Black woman.”