One day in March 2017, corrections officer Terrance Reynolds spoke with his sergeant about three young inmates he accused of being disrespectful to two female officers at the South Florida Reception Center, a state men's prison in Doral.
According to court records, Reynolds and his sergeant instructed the inmates to leave their dorms and then took them into a mop closet out of view of security cameras. The officers used a broomstick to beat one of the inmates and punched him while the other two inmates stood nearby.
The next day, the officers went to see one of the inmates who had witnessed the beating. They took the young man to the "disciplinary review room," which was also out of view of security cameras. The officers assaulted the inmate and took turns punching him, court records say.
Reynolds was arrested in December 2018 for violating the inmates' civil rights. He beat a conviction after a federal jury failed to reach a verdict in his first trial in September 2019. But after a recent 14-day retrial, the 30-year-old former corrections officer was found guilty this past Friday.
Reynolds was initially charged with conspiracy and two counts of deprivation of rights for the assaults of the two young offenders. An indictment says Reynolds was also charged with two counts of lying to the FBI when the agency informed him of the allegations.
A jury found Reynolds guilty of the conspiracy charge and acquitted him of the deprivation of rights charges.
"The purpose of the conspiracy was to use excessive force and the threat of such force to physically assault and intimidate youthful offenders as punishment for conduct perceived to be unacceptably disruptive and disrespectful," Reynolds' indictment reads.
Prosecutors dropped the two charges of lying to federal authorities. The FBI agent who was supposed to take the stand during Reynolds' trial was medically unable to testify, according to Marlene Rodriguez of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Reynolds' sergeant, Brendan Butler, previously pleaded guilty to violating the inmates' civil rights, according to federal prosecutors. In 2018, he was sentenced to two years in prison and one year of supervised release.
"In the Southern District of Florida, abuse by corrections officers will not be tolerated. If you are an officer who violates the civil rights of those entrusted to your protection, know this: My office will prosecute you," Ariana Fajardo Orshan, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, warned in a news release.
Reynolds will be sentenced May 5 and faces up to ten years in prison for the conspiracy charge. Court records say he's out on bond.
Reynolds' troubles don't end with the criminal case, however. A federal civil lawsuit alleges he and several other corrections officers severely beat an inmate at the South Florida Reception Center in 2016. According to the complaint, Reynolds and three other officers took turns kicking an inmate, Jimmy Jones, as he was handcuffed and lying on the ground while blinded by officers' pepper spray; Jones lost three teeth and was covered in blood when the beating was over. After receiving medical treatment, he was tossed in solitary confinement for three years because of an officer's lies about what had led to the beating, the lawsuit says.
Jones' lawyer, Faudlin Pierre, says he sees a pattern in Reynolds' behavior but says it's rare for law enforcement officers to face charges for excessive force, much less federal charges.
"It had to be especially heinous for them to have taken it to court," Pierre says. "They got a hung jury in September, and the government wanted to make sure that he was going to do his time. All the resources that were used to do the first trial had to be mustered for a second trial. The government was pretty convinced, in my opinion, that he committed the civil rights violation. That's why a jury found as much the second time around."
Pierre says that in his client's case, he believes a jury will also find Reynolds guilty of civil rights violations.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.