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Former Fla. corrections officer cleared on 6 of 7 charges in inmate’s death

The former CO at Dade Correctional Institution was found guilty of a single count of culpable negligence but was credited with time served


Former Dade Correctional Institutional prison guard Ronald Connor, center, surrounded by defense attorneys Yanelis Zamora, left, and Damaris Del Valle, right, was cleared of murder charges by a jury Tuesday in the death of a prisoner during a transfer two years ago. Three other guards pleaded guilty and agreed to 20-year sentences.

Charles Rabin/TNS

By Charles Rabin
Miami Herald

MIAMI, Fla. — One-by-one, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pooler read aloud a jury’s findings of not guilty. And with each declaration, Ronald Connor clenched his fists a bit tighter and his eyes got a bit wetter.

Finally, as the judge said not guilty for the sixth time, Connor lowered his head, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and bear-hugged the public defenders who represented him. Family and friends in the pews of the Miami-Dade criminal courthouse heeded the judge’s warning to stay quiet — but they, too, expressed sheer joy in their hugs and high-fives.

Connor, 26, and a former guard at the state’s Dade Correctional Institution was cleared Tuesday evening of all charges but one in the murder of a mentally ill prisoner while he was being transferred to another facility two years ago. In the months preceding the trial, three other guards admitted to beating Ronald Gene Ingram to death.

They each received 20-year sentences. All three testified at trial. The jurors, who deliberated for three hours after the almost two-week trial, found Connor guilty of only a single count of culpable negligence, a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

But Judge Pooler said the two years Connor had spent behind bars awaiting trial were enough and he was credited with time served.

After the verdict, Connor was escorted by corrections officers back to the Miami-Dade County jail, where he was to sign some papers and walk out a free man.

“None of them started pointing the finger at Ronald Connor until it could do something for them,” Connor’s attorney Damaris Del Valle told jurors of the three guards who implicated Connor under questioning by investigators. “And the three men facing life in prison have been given plea deals.”

Began when urine was tossed

Ingram, 60, and a diagnosed schizophrenic, was killed two years ago after he refused to leave his cell at the Dade Correctional Institution near Florida City and tossed urine on a guard named Jeremy Godbolt. Ingram was to be transferred to a North Florida prison that was supposed to provide him with better care. The night before his transfer, Ingram had refused to take his medication.

Godbolt, angered, radioed for help to get Ingram out of his cell. But before guards who were prepared to extricate him began the process, a senior officer talked the older man into leaving his cell and handcuffed his hands behind his back.

Over the next few minutes, state prosecutors showed, several guards kicked and beat Ingram so severely — and purposely out-of-camera view — that they practically had to carry him outside to a bench before the ride.

He was eventually found dead in the back of a transport van during a stop on the drive up north.

Dade Correctional has a lengthy history of prisoner mistreatment and inmate deaths. The Miami Herald published investigations into the prison’s “transitional care unit,” where mentally ill inmates have complained about being refused food and laxatives placed in their meals.

The prison is also where Darren Rainey died in 2012 after being confined to a hot shower, a case detailed extensively by the Herald. Mortality records dating back less than a decade show there have been at least 99 deaths at the facility, the vast majority listed as natural causes.

The investigation into Ingram’s death began after prosecutors gave immunity to a guard who agreed to tell the story. Over the next few weeks, FDLE investigators and prosecutors from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office interviewed Godbolt, Kirk Walton and Christopher Rolon , the three guards who admitted to the beating. Eventually, the other guards pointed a finger at Connor, who had not originally been named and was in a control room when Ingram’s beating began.

Before Connor’s trial, the three guards were found guilty of second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit second-degree murder, aggravated abuse of an elderly person and conspiracy to commit aggravated abuse of the elderly, cruel use of use-of-force and use-of-force while battering a detainee. Though they agreed to 20 years in prison, they have yet to be sentenced.

The disagreement over Connor’s part in the fatal beating stemmed from about a 90-second span in a hallway without video cameras. Investigators say it was there that Ingram was beaten and kicked so severely that 27 of his bones were broken and his rib cage was crushed. The Leesburg Medical Examiner said Ingram died of blunt-force trauma, suffering broken ribs and a punctured right lung that caused “extensive” internal bleeding. The death was classified as a homicide.

The state argued that at one point Connor left the control room, walked over, lifted Ingram and threw him to the ground. One of the guards said Connor lifted the 133-pound prisoner over his head before dropping him. Del Valle and co-counsel Yanelis Zamora said their client was only trying to help Ingram to his feet.

‘Not interested in searching for the truth’

During his closing argument Tuesday, Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Tim VanderGiesen implored jurors that Connor was there during the attack and that he did not stop the beatdown of Ingram. The prosecutor said that for a charge of conspiracy to stick, it didn’t matter who struck the fatal blow.

“You know who was there? The defendant was there. He was there,” said VanderGiesen. “And everybody is responsible for everybody.”

Del Valle told jurors that the state didn’t come close to proving its burden of guilt.

“They’re [state prosecutors] not interested in searching for the truth,” she said. “They’re searching for who can point the finger.”

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