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Fla. corrections officer admits to role in inmate’s death

The former Dade Correctional CO was found guilty of second-degree murder


Former Dade Correctional Institution corrections officer Kirk Walton, 36, right, discusses his guilty plea this week in the murder of a prisoner being transferred in 2022, with his attorney Eric Clayman.

Miami Herald Staff Writer/TNS

By Charles Rabin
Miami Herald

MIAMI, Fla. — His hands cuffed and tied to a chain around his waist, a former state corrections officer stood up from a juror’s seat in his red prison garb Tuesday and admitted to a Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge that he took part in the beating and stomping death of a mentally unstable prisoner three years ago.

Kirk Walton, 36, could spend the next 20 years in prison.

He’s the second of four corrections officers from the state-run Dade Correctional Institution to admit taking part in punching and kicking 60-year-old Robert Gene Ingram before he was placed in a van for transport to a North Florida prison. Ingram was found dead in the rear of the van during a stop before it reached its destination.

The prisoner’s autopsy revealed he died of blunt-force trauma. The Leesburg Medical Examiner said he suffered broken ribs and a punctured right lung that caused “extensive internal bleeding. Ingram’s death was classified as a homicide.

Walton didn’t address the beating that led to Ingram’s death Tuesday before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pooler. He only admitted to taking part in the crime. The judge is expected to sentence Walton and fellow former corrections officer Jeremy Godbolt —who pleaded guilty to identical charges last week — later next month. That’s when two other former officers charged in the murder — Christopher Rolon, 31, and Ronald Connor, 26 — are scheduled for trial.

During Tuesday’s guilty plea by Walton, he simply answered the judge’s questions related to the agreement and didn’t go into the details surrounding Ingram’s death. Ingram’s family members, whom Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Tim VanderGiesen told the judge he’d been in regular contact with, didn’t attend the hearing in person.

“They [family members] will have some more to say at sentencing,” VanderGiesen, who heads up the office’s public corruption unit, told the judge.

Walton was 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. Jailed since early 2022, Walton and Godbolt will each be able to knock of the time they’ve served from their sentences. They’ve both agreed to co-operate with the state in the upcoming trial.

Dade Correctional’s troubled history

Their convictions put a partial cap on a lengthy investigation by law enforcement involving a correctional center that historically has been plagued by prisoner mistreatment and inmate deaths. One of the state’s most problematic prisons, 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 urine and meals.

Infamously, the mental health unit is 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 facility, the vast majority listed as natural causes.

‘It’s over for him. It’s over for him’

The events that led to Ingram’s death on Valentine’s Day 2022 began when the prisoner threw urine at Godbolt when he showed up at about 3 a.m. to begin the transport process, according to investigators and statements from correctional officers

“He didn’t want to cuff up. He just threw [urine],” Walton told VanderGiesen during a voluntary statement in which he received limited immunity in December 2022 . Walton said he was in the control room and in contact with Godbolt, who shouted, “It’s over for him. It’s over for him.”

Then, Walton said, he left the control room and went to help move Ingram. Outside of Ingram’s cell in a hallway, Walton admitted to punching him in the face.

“I wanted him to understand, that, you know, that I don’t tolerate the disrespect,” Walton said.

The beatings continued over the next few minutes as Walton and several other corrections officers escorted Ingram down a hallway and outside to a bench near the transport van. Walton told VanderGiesen that he punched Ingram twice more in the face, sending him to the ground. And when that happened, the other officers descended on him, kicking him repeatedly, mostly in the midsection.

As they took him to a holding cell, Walton said, he noticed blood on Ingram’s lip and got some wet paper towels and cleaned him up. Then they took him to a bench outside the hallway. There, according to Walton, Godbolt sat down next to Ingram, put an arm around him and told him, “We’re gonna be best friends.”

Ingram was then placed in the van for his fatal journey to North Florida.

It wasn’t until the next day, Walton told investigators, that he learned Ingram had died. At first, the group just stayed quiet, the former corrections officer said. The next day, Walton said, they gathered near a fence at the prison with no cameras around and agreed to stay quiet about what happened. Over the next few months, investigators seized cellphones and work shoes.

Walton, Rolon and Connor were arrested and charged with Ingram’s death on April 28, 2022. The arrest made national headlines. Godbolt was extradited to Miami from Los Angeles and officially charged two weeks later. Rolon and Connor are expected to stand trial at the end of April.

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