Florida Governor Jeb Bush appoints James V. Crosby, Jr. as Secretary of Corrections on January 7, 2003.
On June 11, 2003, Correctional Officer Darla Lathrem is killed by an inmate or inmates attempting to escape from Charlotte C.I. She is the first female officer to be killed in the line of duty
Correctional Officer Darla Lathrem
Correctional Officer Darla Lathrem, 38, became the first female correctional officer in Florida history to be killed in the line of duty on June 11, 2003 when she was murdered during an escape attempt at Charlotte C.I.
One of the five inmates she was supervising, Charles Fuston, 36, was also killed and another inmate, John Beaston, 37, was seriously injured. The escape was foiled and the three remaining inmates involved were moved to other DC facilities. Darla, who was named after a character in the "Our Gang" television series, is survived by her parents, sister, and brother-in-law.
"Although words can never express our shock or alleviate the grief that comes from a tragedy like this, we sincerely extend our warmest, deepest, heartfelt sympathy to all of those who knew and loved Darla," said Secretary James V. Crosby, Jr. "Darla Lathrem was a bright, responsible, caring officer whose desire to help her co-workers was only overshadowed by her professionalism and character."
Darla had started working for the DC on April 19, 2002 as a trainee at Charlotte C.I., and she would have completed her probationary period on October 30, 2003. Darla, who was making $28,571 a year as a certified correctional officer, was also active in her church. "She was an excellent officer," according to Lt. R.J. Poccia, who worked with her at Charlotte C.I.
"You never had to ask her twice to do anything. She was just a good, decent human being."
More than 1,500 people attended Darla's funeral in Ft. Myers on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 at McGregor Baptist Church, at least half of them correctional officers. Employees from nearby DC facilities volunteered to cover for the officers at Charlotte C.I. so they could attend the funeral, and at least one officer from almost all DC facilities statewide came to represent their institutions.
Darla's 6-foot frame belied her shy, soft-spoken nature. When her supervisor, Sgt. Roderick Spears first met her, he said he thought she seemed more like a school teacher than a correctional officer. At her funeral, Spears said "She was a rookie. We watched her blossom into an awesome officer. We've got an angel watching over Charlotte now."
The other three inmates involved in the escape attempt are Dwight T. Eaglin, Michael Jones and Stephen V. Smith. Each is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and the state will seek the death penalty for all three, due to the "brutality of the beating," according to Chere Avery, a spokeswoman for the state attorney's office. In March 2006, Eaglin is found guilty of two counts of first degree murder and is sentenced to death. The others are awaiting trial.
Lathrem was murdered with a sledgehammer while supervising the five inmates on an inside construction detail, preparing a dormitory. Her body was found in a locked closet inside the compound. As a result of a six-month DC Operational Review and Investigation into the incident, several officers were demoted or received a record of counseling. The warden at the time of the incident, Warren Cornell, had resigned shortly after the incident. He had been with the DC for 32 years and had been Warden of Charlotte C.I. since 1997.
According to the DC's Public Affairs Office, the Operational Review and Investigation found several deficiencies: "Findings of the investigation concluded that staff failed to ensure that two officers were present when construction was taking place in dormitories. The investigation also found that there was no monitoring of the construction project beyond the normal duty hours to ensure that manpower was being utilized properly. Policies requiring all staff to wear body alarm were not enforced. Inmates were not placed in restraints during movement, key control and sensitive tool policies were not followed and required security checks were not made or monitored to ensure compliance with policy."
The average percentage of sentence served by inmates released as of June 30, 2003 is 84.5%.