FDLE investigates Union County Correctional inmate's death

44-year-old inmate died after violent confrontation with corrections officers

RAIFORD, Fla. - After the death of an inmate one month ago, the Florida Department of Corrections confirmed that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has launched a criminal investigation into allegations of excessive force at Union Correctional Institution.

The incident has prompted five suspensions and lateral transfers of other personnel, including Union Correctional Warden Barry Reddish.

While the DOC hasn't released the name of the inmate, Channel 4 has learned that Frank Smith, 44, died of injuries Sept. 4 following a violent confrontation with corrections officers transporting him in a state prison vehicle from a hospital back to the prison.

Smith (in DOC photo, right) was nearing the end of a 16-year sentence for an armed carjacking and kidnapping in Miami-Dade County.

"To carry out our mission it is sometimes necessary to use physical force," said Tim Cannon, assistant secretary of institutions for DOC. "However, force should only be used when absolutely necessary and strict compliance with our rules."

DOC spokeswoman Ann Howard said the department doesn't know how long the investigation, which also involves the agency's inspector general, will take.

"This is not the only case," Howard said Friday. "I am not sure how many there will be total. We are, again, in the very beginning process of this."

In addition to the warden's transfer, two assistant wardens -- Nan Jeffcoat and Mike Willis -- were shifted to other prisons, as was Col. Ben Godwin and Maj. Philip Jefferson.

Asked if there is a safety issue at the prison, Howard was defensive.

"We are coming out and telling you we have a concern here," she said. "To say speculation that this is a dangerous place. I am not going to go there."

Copyright 2012 by News Service of Florida and News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.