LAKE CITY, Fla. - The Columbia Correctional Institution remains on lock down after investigators say an inmate attacked two officers.
The Florida Department of Corrections said a 51-year-old prisoner assaulted the two corrections officers early Tuesday morning during a "use of force" incident.
DOC spokeswoman Misty Cash described the two officers' injuries as minor, but they were taken to an outside medical facility for treatment. Their names were not released.
The inmate involved was Willie Watts, who is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder of a fellow inmate in 1986.
Watts originally convicted for a 1979 murder in Escambia County. While at Florida State Prison, he murdered fellow inmate John Wiseman and assaulted corrections Officer E.E. Adams at Union Correctional Institution.
Watts also assaulted a corrections officer in another prison in the 80s.
Watts has a long history of incarceration, including transmitting contraband in prison, attempted murder, attempted armed robbery, grand theft and escape.
The DOC will not release the names of the officers involved in Tuesday's incident.
This is the same prison where Corrections Officer Ruben Thomas was killed two years ago when inmate Richard Franklin stabbed him 14 times with a makeshift knife. Thomas left behind a wife, a young daughter, and they had another child on the way.
Thomas' name was added to the National Fallen Law Officers' Memorial in Washington D.C. last year.
Still suffering Thomas' loss, his family on Tuesday said that convicted murderers should not be allowed in general population, and prisons need more security officers. They only two officers work overnight at a facility holding 200 inmates -- "and all they carry is pepper spray."
"It hurts that nothing has been done. It seems like Gov. (Rick) Scott continues to make cuts to the prison system that affects these guys -- not only their pay but also the number of employees that are out there," said Thomas' mother, Paula. ""When I heard the news it just broke my heart to know that there is still so much violence going on in the prison and that officers are not being protected."
"They have two guards to 200-something inmates, and all they do is carry pepper spray," said Thomas' sister, Savannah.
The DOC lost hundreds of employees years ago due to budget cuts, and while $12 million was restored last year to fill vacant positions, many positions are unfilled.
"We need guards. We need more guards at these prisons," said Thomas' father, Randy. "I mean, you have these cutbacks at prisons and they cut back on manpower."
Beyond staffing issues, Thomas family said there's no excuse for allowing known killers enough freedom in prison to cause trouble. Watts was classified as Close Management III -- in double occupancy cell housing in transition for return to the general population.
"I think it's just going to continue to get worse until something gets done out there," Savannah said.
"They get served life in prison for taking another life, they get inside there and they're taking another life and they're getting two life sentences out of it," said Randy Thomas, the victim's father-in-law. "There comes a time when the judges and the lawmakers have to make a decision."
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