Wednesday, May 23, 2007

NBC2 Exclusive: Female inmates get violent

by Cara Sapida

LEE COUNTY: The number of female felons in Southwest Florida’s largest jail is soaring and so are the violent attacks behind bars. NBC2's Cara Sapida obtained an exclusive look inside the Lee County Jail women’s ward.

In less than a decade, the population at the jail has more than doubled.

"The days of female inmates sitting there knitting, that's a misnomer. That doesn't happen anymore," said Chief Charles Ferrante of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Monday, for the first time since they were each violently attacked, two deputies sat down to share their story.

"She approached me speaking unintelligibly and as I tilted my head to try to understand her, she latched onto my cheek," said Deputy Nereida Ramos.

Ramos said she was escorting a group of inmates to court when one of them attacked her.

"In the time frame, she was fighting and she ripped my face open," said Ramos. "I was body slamming her, physically tasering her at the same time, hitting her and she would not let go."

Luckily, her face is healing well. But her pain is far from over. She faced her attacker in court last week and the inmate pled insanity.

Deputy Paulette Ehlers is still healing as well from a completely separate attack.

"I remember her grabbing the top of my hair, my head was smashed into the bars, she kicked me through the bars," said Ehlers. "I remember reaching back for my pony tail in my hand, and it wasn't attached to my head."

Doctors feared her hair would never grow again.

"She yanked it out so hard it came from the root. I think I had a headache for three months," said Ehlers.

Ferrante says the attacks are changing the way the women's ward is run.

"They act like a lady; you treat them like a lady. They act like a man, you fight them like a man," said Ferrante.

Currently, 34 of the 322 female inmates inside the Lee County Jail are considered violent.

However, corrections officers say the violent offenders are rarely the trouble makers.

The women who attacked Deputies Ramos and Ehlers were in jail for minor crimes.

Officials say the average male inmate is likely to treat a female officer like he would treat his mother or sister.

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