Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ex-prison officer sentenced for pouring scalding water on inmate

By Lise Fisher
Staff writer

Published: Monday, July 6, 2009 at 6:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 6, 2009 at 6:34 p.m.
A former Florida State Prison corrections officer, convicted earlier this year of throwing scalding water on an inmate, was sentenced Monday to three years in prison in a federal court in Jacksonville, the U.S. Department of Justice reported.

Paul Tillis, 44, had been convicted in January on a federal civil rights charge related to assaulting an inmate, according to the federal agency. His prison sentence will be followed by two years of post-release supervision.

Tillis had been accused of pouring the hot water, which was between 159 and 180 degrees, on inmate Jerry Williams' chest, causing second-degree burns, prosecutors said. The incident occurred in August 2005. At the time, Williams was fabricating a suicide attempt so he could be transferred to a psychological treatment facility, according to the DOJ.

Sentencing guidelines had set a sentence for Tillis ranging from about seven years to nine years in prison.

Tillis' defense had argued for a downward departure, noting he had no prior criminal history and had received regular, positive reviews from his employer during his more than seven years as a corrections officer, court records show. Many of those years he was assigned to the disciplinary confinement wing of the prison, including when the incident occurred.

Numerous letters of support, some from family and others from members of the community, were forwarded to the court before Tillis' sentence, supporting him and asking for leniency, court records show. Some of the letters described Tillis as a family man with children, a "gentle giant" and a "good man who made a gross error in judgment." Among those who wrote letters were Union County Sheriff Jerry Whitehead, Union County Library Director Mary Brown, Lake Butler City Commissioner Brantley Crawford and Lake Butler Mayor Jimmy Beasley. None spoke about the facts of the case but rather about their personal impressions of Tillis.

The Florida Department of Corrections could not immediately provide additional information Monday about Williams or why he had been sentenced to prison. The state agency initiated an investigation into the alleged abused and later turned it over to federal authorities, according to the DOC.

Tillis resigned from the DOC in 2008, the DOJ reported.

No comments: