JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 21-year-old female corrections officer was arrested and fired from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office after police said she beat a woman who was shackled in the Duval County jail.
Catherine Thompson had been with JSO for 14 months and was still in her probationary period, Undersheriff Pat Ivey said Thursday.
Ivey said a woman was arrested Friday on a charge of driving without a valid license. The woman, Kirenda Welch, encountered Thompson while being searched at the jail and the two exchanged insults, Ivey said.
Welch, who told News4Jax she's five weeks pregnant, said the episode began when she took issue with the itchy uniform she was given, according to her complaint.
“The pants immediately started to itch me. Something was wrong with the pants. I told her, 'These are old. They’re dirty, and they stink and I’m itching. I can’t put on the pants. I left the shirt on. Can you please give me another pair of pants?'" Welch said.
She said her criticism was met with racial slurs.
"She pretty much went off and started calling me Kunta Kinte," said Welch, referring to the slave character from the novel and TV miniseries "Roots."
At some point, Ivey said, Welch was placed in four-point restraints, meaning she was handcuffed and her legs were shackled, and her hands and legs were connected by a chain. She said things escalated when she complained that the shackles were too tight.
According to Ivey, Thompson hit Welch in the face and knocked her to the floor. He said she repeatedly attacked Welch while she was on the ground. At one point during the struggle, Welch said, she fought back. She was later maced.
"She punched me dead in my forehead, right in the middle. Boom. I could not believe it," Welch said. "I can't believe she's doing this. I'm shackled up. I'm on my back ... She used both hands and banged my head into the concrete wall. I was like, 'Oh my God. This is it. It's happening.'"
Ivey said Thompson then wrote a report about the incident that was "not honest." Thompson has been charged with misdemeanor battery and official misconduct, which is a felony. Because she was still on probation, Thompson was fired immediately. Ivey said he did not know the specifics of the verbal exchange between the two women.
Welch, 36, told News4Jax on Thursday that, physically, she has some scrapes that are healing. Mentally, she said, she's dealing with post-traumatic stress and worrying that her unborn child could be injured. Welch said she's planning to file a lawsuit against JSO.
Welch also gave News4Jax the details of the traffic stop Friday that led to her being taken to the Duval County jail.
Welch said she and her two children were on the way back from a youth basketball game Friday evening. She said she was driving a Dodge Charger on Firestone Road when her toddler got out of his safety seat.
“I tried to hurry and pull over, so I made an illegal U-turn. I was trying to get him settled," she said.
That’s when a police officer got behind her and initiated a traffic stop.
Welch said she then got out of her car to tend to her son in the back seat while the officer was parked behind her.
“He jumped out with a gun drawn. So I’m like, 'Oh my God. Please don’t shoot. I was, like, 'I don’t want to die.' I told my son to put his hands up," Welch said. “The officer later told me that he didn’t know what I was going to do to him. That’s why he had his gun drawn.”
The officer checked her license and learned it was suspended.
“I ran through a toll I didn’t know about. They sent it to my old address. I never got it. I didn’t pay it so they suspended my license," Welch said. "So, I’m riding around all this time and they said a judge signed off on it May 30.”
She was then placed under arrest and taken to the Duval County jail, where investigators said she was beaten by the now-former corrections officer.
News4Jax requested the narrative report from the officer who arrested Welch.
When asked whether officers always arrest someone driving on a suspended license, JSO said a capias warrant for Welch's arrest had been issued in May because she was driving with a suspended license.