Protesters demand arrest after prison inmate dies following use of force incident

The pressure is mounting for an arrest after an inmate died following a use of force incident at Lake Correctional Institution.

Protesters gathered Tuesday afternoon outside the State Attorney’s Office in Tavares.

“When are we as a nation going to say this is enough,” said Debra Bennett, a former inmate who now advocates for those are still locked up.

Officials confirm the inmate who died is 51-year-old Christopher Howell. He was serving a four-year sentence inside the Clermont facility.  While the Miami Herald is reporting he was beaten by an officer while handcuffed, the Florida Department of Corrections has not released any details about the use of force incident or what led up to it.

“This, with Christopher Howell just really stopped me in my tracks,” Bennett said.

Court records show Howell was arrested in 2018. He had stolen phone chargers from a Target store, and when confronted by a store employee he pulled out a pocket knife, according to a probable cause affidavit.

An officer notes “disabled” on the report. Records from a 2013 case show Howell was homeless and underwent a mental health evaluation.

“In prison, it’s the same abuse. There’s just is not a gun, there’s no one on the side of the road filming it. When you’re screaming and crying and asking for help – nobody hears you,” Bennett said.

A prosecutor talked with prosecutors during the demonstration. He said, “Our office too is very concerned.”

But the attorney added he’ll need to get the report from Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the medical examiner’s office before deciding what to do next.

The officers involved in this incident have been placed on leave.