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Alleged inmate assault leaves 2 officers behind bars

Officers charged after inmate was hospitalized with broken nose, multiple fractures

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. – Two Columbia Correctional Institute officers are now inmates themselves after being arrested and charged for aggravated battery in the beating of an inmate who was in custody.

According to arrest records 37-year-old Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and 21-year-old Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims Jr., are behind bars after an investigation by the Department of Corrections into the beating of 41-year-old Shurick Lewis.

Sims' father, who worked for the Montgomery Correctional Institution in Jacksonville said things like this used to happen over there as well and this is a case of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement taking an inmate's word over a correctional officer who has worked at the institution for three years.

He also said his son, who goes by the name D.J., has never been in trouble before and never drank or partied growing up, and doesn't think he should have been arrested. 

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Officials said that on Feb. 11, Sims and Jernigan were supposed to be taking Lewis from a holding cell to a confinement cell, but ordered other inmates to clear the area while they took Lewis to an area that had no video surveillance.

It was in that area that officials said Lewis was beaten by the two men and came out bleeding from his nose and mouth with a swollen eye.

Lewis was treated by a prison nurse and sent back to his cell but several hours later had to be transported to UF Shands Hospital where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures. 

During the investigation into the assault, Jernigan and Sims couldn't seem to come to corroborate their stories when Sims told investigators Lewis just fell from his bunk while Jernigan said that he had to use force on Lewis because the inmate lunged at him.

After the assault, investigators said that Jernigan made other inmates clean up Lewis' blood, put a new mattress on his bunk and throw away his bloody clothes.

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The Florida Department of Corrections did issue a statement decrying the actions of the two officers:

"The Florida Department of Corrections has absolutely no tolerance for the behavior and actions taken by these individuals. Effective today, May 5, 2015, the employment of Correctional Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims has been terminated," said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones. "We will continue to take quick and decisive actions against those involved in abuse, neglect or misconduct of any kind and will cooperate fully with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney to ensure that any employee engaged in this behavior is held accountable."

Jernigan turned himself in to the Columbia County Jail on Monday and aside from being charged with aggravated battery was charged with failure to report and tampering with evidence.

Sims was arrested, with assistance from the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office on Monday night in Live Oak and transported to the Suwannee County Jail and is charged with aggravated battery and failure to report.