BARTOW – Three juveniles at the Polk County Jail are now facing attempted murder charges for beating and choking another inmate, and the charges just got classified as a hate crime.
Trevon Leondra Hendrix, 16, of 709 N. 4th St. in Haines City, Devin Terrel Watlington, 17, of 1222 Hartsell Ave., Lakeland, and 17-year-old Michael James Hector, Jr., of 515 Modest St., Lakeland, were being held in the Central County Jail, in an area reserved for inmates bound over by the court to face adult charges, and separated from adults and from juvenile inmates who haven’t yet been taken to court.
The three inmates, who have lengthy criminal arrest records despite being teens, had their charges upgraded on Tuesday after a Polk County Sheriff’s Office detention deputy stopped them from continuing to beat and choke another juvenile inmate on Friday, Feb. 24.
As a result, the three were charged on Feb. 28 with attempted felony murder, based on the victim’s injuries and statements he gave to a detective, said Scott H. Wilder, director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in his report on the case. The victim of the attack later told deputies the assailants made references to slavery during the assault, and, using a bedsheet, made an attempt to strangle or lynch him.
“The felony charges have been enhanced by one level to a life felony based upon the incident being designated as a hate crime, because of racially-based prejudiced statements made while the suspects committed the offense, as alleged by the victim,” Wilder noted.
The victim of the attack was 16-year-old Travis Eugene Winemiller of 4680 Barush Road, Bartow. Winemiller is white. He was being held at the jail on a list of charges that included unlawful possession of a firearm by someone under the age of 18, four counts of burglary, trespassing, grand theft with a firearm, and petit theft.
The alleged attack happened last Friday in the cell where the four inmates were housed. Although Winemiller initially told detention deputies that nothing had happened, he later told an investigating detective that Hector demanded that Winemiller fight him.
“We don’t know how long it happened,” Wilder told Freeline Media. “It’s his recollection and from what he was telling our detective, he wans’t able to give us a definitive time frame.”
Wilder added, “The three other suspects said they didn’t do anything. That whole account that we put in there is what the victim said happened. We can certainly corroborate it with the injuries and bruises around his face and neck, and tie that to what he told usl. But it’s important that we don’t have video of this happening, or an independent witness.”
According to the arrest report, Winemiller told the detective that Hector punched him in the side of the head, and that’s how the fight started. Watlington came up behind Winemiller and held him while Hector hit him in the head several times. The two then slammed Winemiller to the floor and Hendrix wrapped a pillowcase around Winemiller’s neck and strangled him until he was unconscious.
Winemiller also reported that the three inmates “hogtied” him as he was lying face-down on the floor with a sheet tied around his hands, arms, and neck.
“Hendrix pulled on the sheet wrapped around Winemiller’s neck while the other two slapped Winemiller in the face with plastic shoes,” the arrest report said. Winemiller told the investigating detectives that the other three inmates told him they’d kill him if he reported this assault to the detention deputies. That was the reason why the attack went on so long, Wilder said.
“On one occasion, we had a deputy who actually came in and looked at the kids, and Winemiller was sitting on the bed,” Wilder said. “When a deputy was walking down the hall, they would stop and he would be in bed, so they were able to disguise it, although the last time it happened we did catch it.”
Winemiller reported that he got punched numerous times and whipped with wet towels, which left marks on his skin, and that he got choked by the three with a pillow case.
Winemiller said they forcefully removed his pants and struck him with the wet towel on his buttocks and back. Winemiller told the detective that his pants got thrown into a corner and were urinated on by the other juveniles. He said he was then told to put the pants back on and he refused, so one of the other inmates gave him a pair of his pants.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
“Winemiller told the detective that later he was held up against the wall with a sheet around his neck with the sheet run through a bar on the window,” the report notes. “Winemiller alleges that one of the suspects said, ‘This is how you slave a real cracker.’ Winemiller said that he told the suspects that ‘I had nothing to do with that.’ He further stated that one of the suspects said ‘Well, it was your ancestral background that did it, so now we’re going to show you how it [explicative] feels.’ “
Those statements made by Winemiller to the investigating detective are the reason why the charges got upgraded to a hate crime.
Winemiller told detectives that the sheet was tightened around his neck and he passed out. He later woke up when the other three splashed water on his face.
“He told the detective that they then cornered him again and inmate Hendrix struck him with his elbow, which was observed by a detention deputy who was making his rounds looking into the cells,” the arrest report notes.
Winemiller was taken out of the cell, and sent to a nurse to be treated and examined. She noticed visible injuries on him that included ligature marks around his neck, welts and bruising on his face, chest, arms, and back. Winemiller also had a bruised left eye and bruising across his nose.
Wilder said the injuries were consistent with the statement he gave the investigating detective. Winemiller is now in good condition and being held in protective custody.
Although Winemiller initially told detention deputies that “nothing happened,” detention personnel noticed his injuries and referred the case to an investigator, who interviewed all four inmates. Hendrix reportedly told the detective that nothing happened, Hector claimed Winemiller came into the room with those injuries, and Watlington said he was sleeping at the time and didn’t see a thing.
Based on the statements made by Winemiller and his injuries, which the detective said corroborated his version of what happened, Hector, Watlington, and Hendrix were charged with attempted felony murder.
Wilder said it appears Winemiller was initially afraid to report the attack.
“It’s not like ‘Don’t be a rat,’ ” Wilder said. “I think they take into account their safety. When he first came out of the cell, obviously, we coulds tell there were injuries, but he told detention deputies ‘Oh, nothing happened,’ and wouldn’t talk to us. But they did the right thing and called in a detective who was able to codnuct an interview one on one, and that’s when he opened up and told us what had happened.”
Prior to having his charges upgraded, Hendrix was at the jail on two robbery arrests. His previous charges also include possession of marijuana in 2010, and battery in 2011.
Watlington was originally in the jail on two probation violation charges for previous felonies, and earlier arrests include burglary, grand theft, criminal mischief, resisting an officer with violence, and trespassing.
Hector had been sent to the jail on a charge of robbery with a firearm. His other charges include trespassing on school grounds, burglary, and aggravated stalking.
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