LAKE CITY – An inmate serving a life sentence for killing a Daytona Beach college student is expected to once again face murder charges, this time in the death of a corrections officer at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City.
The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed that Sergeant Ruben Tomas, 24, who had worked for DOC for the past six years, was killed in the line of duty on Sunday, March 18 at the prison.
In a news release on the murder, DOC noted that “Witnesses say he (Thomas) was stabbed in the neck by inmate Richard Franklin with a handmade weapon.”
A second correctional officer, William Brewer, also got assaulted by Franklin, DOC said. Brewer was taken to a local hospital and was later released. DOC noted that Brewer will “require further medical attention.”
The prison’s warden, Don Davis, issued a statement about the tragic death.
“It is with a heavy heart and great sadness to inform you of the sudden death of Sergeant Ruben Thomas, a member of Columbia Correctional Institution family,” Davis wrote. “Sergeant Thomas was fatally injured after being stabbed by an inmate on Sunday. He is survived by his mother, Mrs. Paula Thomas, father, Mr. Ruben Thomas, fiancé, Ms. LeAnn Royster, their daughter and unborn child.”
Ken Tucker, the secretary of DOC, also issued a statement noting that the department was saddened by the loss of one of their own.
“The department is going to mourn the loss of Sergeant Ruben Thomas,” Tucker said. “Sergeant Thomas is described as a solid and highly respected member of the agency and will be remembered in the highest regard. Our condolences go out to his family.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now taking over the investigation of this murder.
Gov. Rick Scott also issued a statement about Thomas’ death.
“I am saddened to learn of the tragic death of Sgt. Ruben Thomas last night at the Columbia Correctional Institute annex,” Scott said. “My deepest condolences go to his family and fellow correctional officers in Columbia County and across Florida. A second officer, William Brewer, was also assaulted during the attack, and I pray for his quick recovery.”
The governor also requested that, in honor of Sergeant Thomas, the national and state flags be lowered to half-staff at all Florida Department of Corrections institutions statewide, at City Hall in Lake City, and at the Columbia County Courthouse on Friday, March 23, from sunrise to sunset.
The inmate accused of assaulting the two guards is described as being 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 175 pounds. Franklin was arrested in December 1994 and charged with, and later convicted of, the violent robbery of a college student, 25-year-old Gregory Roper, who had been attending Bethune-Cookman University, and whose body was found in Daytona Beach in November 1994.
Franklin was charged with first degree murder/premeditated and robbery with a gun/deadly weapon in Volusia County. He was convicted on Sept. 6, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison. He began serving that sentence on Sept. 8, 1995.
Columbia CI has a maximum capacity of 1,427 inmates, and a staff of 389. The prison houses close, medium, minimum and community custody grades of inmates.
Franklin was as a close custody inmate, or one confined separately from the general inmate population. Close custody, according to DOC, is the second highest security level, and refers to the class of inmates “who must be maintained within an armed perimeter or under direct, armed supervision when outside of a secure perimeter.” The only level that’s higher is Maximum custody, which refers to inmates who are facing a death sentence. Close custody inmates typically have serious disciplinary problems, or have threatened the safety of others inmates or corrections officers, or proven they’re unable to live in the general population. Franklin had been cited by DOC for numerous offenses that included fighting, refusing to work, possessing contraband and disobeying regulations.
The murder comes as the governor’s office is in the process of shutting down nine prisons and work camps in an effort to cut $1 billion from the DOC budget.
DOC just closed the Caryville Work Camp, located in Washington County on the Florida Panhandle, which had housed 133 inmates, and the Levy Forestry Camp in Bronson, which had been housing 292 inmates. The remaining prisons that are being closed are Broward Correctional Institution, Demilly CI, Gainesville CI, Hendry Work Camp, Hillsborough CI, Indian River CI, New River East CI, the New River O Unit Work Camp, and River Junction Work Camp.
No inmate is expected to be released early, and will be transferred to other facilities. DOC has insisted there is enough prison bed space available to meet Florida’s existing prison population to house all inmates at the facilities being shut down.
Florida now houses 102,000 inmates in 63 state prisons, and supervises more than 115,000 active offenders on community release supervision — the third largest prison system in the nation. But a falling crime rate gives the state a rare opportunity to find savings within the prison system, the governor’s budget report has claimed.
”It is always troubling when members of our law enforcement community lose their lives in the line of duty,” Gov. Scott said. “These brave men and women dedicate themselves each day to ensure Florida is a safe place to live. We all need to remember the sacrifices and heroic efforts of our officers.”
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