The family of an 82-year-old Tillsonburg man has hired a prominent Florida lawyer to find out how he ended up being beaten to death in a Florida jail cell.
Art Williams, whom a Florida court had deemed mentally unfit to stand trial on several charges, was sharing a two-man cell at the Jackson County Correctional Facility with a 21-year-old man awaiting trial for murdering his cellmate at another Florida prison in 2015.
Williams was brutally beaten before his body was found Jan. 15, said the chief of the Marianna police department that is investigating his death.
Frederick Patterson III faces a murder count.
Lawyer Curt Obront, who recently defended the teenage son of Canada’s Consul General Roxanne Dube in Miami against murder charges, described what happened to Williams as “inexplicable.”
“It’s not OK; it’s unacceptable,” said Obront, a Canadian-born lawyer who practises in Florida.
“I have been practising law for 35 years and this is amongst the most horrific cases I have encountered.”
Williams had been found mentally unfit to stand trial in a bizarre case with charges of loitering, trespassing, luring, stalking and giving false information to police.
He was arrested in October after the mother of a nine-year-old boy complained to police that a man in a car tried to coax her son into the vehicle.
A prosecutor dropped a sixth charge late last year against Williams of making a false bomb threat.
Williams was waiting to be transferred to a treatment facility when he was killed.
“Someone who had been charged with that type of crime is entitled to some segregation or protection,” Obront said.
“It’s commonly known those offenders are subject to violence and abuse at these facilities.”
Williams had no prior record and had never been arrested before, Obront said.
But what he wants to know is “how on earth” Williams was placed by Jackson County jail officials in the same cell as a much younger man previously charged with murdering a cellmate.
Williams is believed to have died of blunt force trauma and was the first inmate to be killed at the Jackson County Correctional Facility, officials said.
Prison officials also said Patterson, who had the tattoo “Tap Out” on his neck that identified him as a MMA fighter, confessed, and there is video evidence of the attack.
Obront said he was contacted by Williams’ family and is on a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of how the “blatant incompetence of those involved in the process” resulted in tragedy.
The family declined to comment.
Obront said he will file legal claims on behalf of the surviving relatives with a goal of preventing a similar incident in the future and compensating family members.
Florida law allows for claims against government institutions for the wrongful death of a person who died as a result of their staff’s negligence, he said.
The claims must be filed within two years of the incident under the statute of limitations.
Obront said he is looking into potential federal claims for civil rights violations. He has requested files and records from various agencies, including the state attorney, public defender, the Jackson County detention facility, the medical examiner and the Mariana Police Department.
Mark Foreman, chief of corrections at the Jackson County Correctional Facility, did not respond to Postmedia’s requests for comment on the impending lawsuit.
He said last week he believed all prison procedures were followed properly before the slaying.
Both Williams and Patterson were housed in the jail’s maximum security area, where there are only two prisoners in each cell. Prisoners who have committed lesser offences are housed eight to a cell.
Patterson was awaiting trial for murder in the October 2015 death of another cellmate at the Apalachee Correctional Institution, also in Florida.
On the night of Williams’s death, Foreman said all procedures, including hourly security checks, were carried out appropriately.
Williams’ body was found during a 2 a.m. check.
Marianna police Chief Hayes Baggett said the brutal beating was “one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Williams was taken into custody after he was charged with threatening police and offering “deceptive” information during his arrest in a Florida child-luring incident that began Oct. 18.
Police said the mother of a nine-year-old boy called police after her fiance asked a stranger in a burgundy car parked behind their house to leave because they believed he’d been trying to lure the boy into his car.
The boy told his mother he’d seen the car cruise by the house several times, with the man motioning for him to come to the car.
The man was described as balding, older-looking and small-framed with red hair.
State troopers tracked the vehicle by the licence plate number provided by the mother.
In an initially unrelated call, a state trooper met the suspect going the wrong way on an eastbound ramp. The man told police he was in the real-estate business and wanted to buy a house.
He denied trying to contact the boy before the officer even mentioned a child.
He also said police should walk away from the incident.