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Broward Sheriff's Office to Pay $185,000 to Woman Beaten by Jail GuardsEXPAND
Courtesy of Audra West

Broward Sheriff's Office to Pay $185,000 to Woman Beaten by Jail Guards

The jailhouse surveillance video clearly shows the deputy violently wrenching inmate Audra West up out of a chair, throwing her around the room, and dragging her into a strip-search room. Other female deputies then run into the room with the door shutting behind them.

West says that inside the room, where conveniently there are no cameras, Broward Sheriff's Deputy Kristin Connelly punched her in the face repeatedly while another deputy kicked and punched her from behind. After about three and a half minutes, the door opens and Connelly escorts West, displaying a badly blackened eye and bruises all over her body, out of the room.

What prompted the beating? West had started her period and asked Connelly for a tampon. When Connelly refused, West muttered, "Fuck you" under her breath. That's when Connelly came at her and yanked her out of her seat.

"I was treated inhumanely," says West, who had been jailed several hours before for disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest after partying too much at the Elbo Room, a bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach. "And then I was beaten for it."

Ever since the 2014 beating, West has been in a battle for justice with the Broward Sheriff's Office. Despite the video evidence and graphic photographs depicting West's injuries, BSO's internal affairs division found no misconduct in the case. After this reporter exposed the case and sparked a State Attorney's Office investigation, BSO admitted no wrongdoing. When prosecutors criminally charged Connelly with battery, BSO still refused to acknowledge any malfeasance. And even when a jury convicted Connelly of misdemeanor battery last year, BSO declined to admit it had done anything wrong.

On Thursday, BSO agreed to pay West $185,000, marking the end of her five-year battle with the agency.

"I'm still in shock," West says. "It still hasn't settled in. Having to go up against so many police officers, it was daunting. I feel really glad that I had the courage to go through it. I didn't want anybody else to get hurt and that's why I did it. Nobody else should have to endure this ordeal."

Yet, amazingly, even as it agreed to pay West $185,000, BSO still refused to admit wrongdoing.

"That's ridiculous," West said. "They didn't admit the wrongdoing, but... the settlement shows they did wrong."

West's attorney, Gary Kollin, said that in addition to the beating itself, there was more misconduct by Connelly and the other deputies involved. Required use of force reports weren't submitted until six days later, after West had complained to IA and an investigation had begun. Accounts from Connelly and at least one other deputy contradicted the video evidence.

Connelly, for instance, claimed she twice asked West to get up and go into the room to change into a different-colored jumpsuit. But the video shows she grabbed West with little to no warning. She said she hit West twice in the face, claiming West was resisting. After West filed her complaint, Connelly actually attempted to file battery charges against West — only to be shot down by a prosecutor who viewed the video.

"I did not see where Audra West presented a physical threat to the deputy before being forcefully dragged out of her chair into a room with four other deputies, where Audra West was allegedly beaten," wrote Assistant State Attorney Mark Horn in his report.

A female inmate who witnessed the incident said a male deputy seen in the video warned Connelly, "Don't do it." The witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said West did not provoke the attack.

"[Connelly] grabbed the girl and starting swinging her back and forth," the witness said. "I'm sitting there and I'm just in shock."

Kollin points out that BSO's apparent whitewashing of the West beating occurred under the administration of Sheriff Scott Israel, who was removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January after the agency's disastrous response last year to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And he said Israel deserves the blame.

Broward Sheriff's Office to Pay $185,000 to Woman Beaten by Jail Guards (3)
Courtesy Audra West

"The IA investigation was a results-based investigation," said Kollin. "The purpose of the investigation was to exonerate your officers from wrongdoing. You cherry-pick what you want to in order to achieve the result that you wish."

Both he and West said they hoped the new sheriff, Greg Tony, will review the case thoroughly and clean up the agency's much-criticized internal affairs division.

"I'm hoping the new sheriff will do the right thing in the future," said West. "It has to send a message that their deputies can't do this again. I hope it leads to better training."

She said although the positive outcome has taken a weight off her shoulders and it's a great relief that the fight with BSO is over, she'll never be the same.

"I don't trust anymore," West said. "I have a lot of anxiety. I have PTSD.  I'm a very different person. It's changed my whole world view."

West said she hopes her success in fighting BSO will convince other victims to come forward.

"If something like this happens to you, you have to have the courage to speak up and have your voice be heard," she said. "It may be embarrassing; it was very embarrassing for me to go through this. But it has to get out to the public, so people will know this is happening. You will cry a lot. I cried a lot. I still do sometimes; I still have nightmares about it. But it's important to do the right thing."

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