Attorney Of Woman Allegedly Beaten By Corrections Officer Wants Incident Investigated As Hate Crime

Jul 9, 2018

Story updated on 7/9 at 5 p.m. with comment from the State Attorney's Office. 

Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin Crump’s law firm will be representing a pregnant Orange Park mother allegedly beaten late last month by a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office corrections officer.

Crump made the announcement along with victim Kirenda Welch outside the Duval County Courthouse on Monday. Welch wound up in police custody on June 29 after being arrested for driving with a suspended license.

Officer Catherine Thompson, 21, accused of the beating, was arrested and fired last week after her coworkers backed up Welch’s account of the incident which happened while Welch was cuffed and shackled by her wrists and ankles. She was also pepper-sprayed during the attack.

Crump said Thompson’s arrest is only the first step toward justice. He’s filing a public records lawsuit.

“To make sure any and all video of this illegal, excessive force encounter be released to the public immediately,” he said.   

Crump said he’s going to be requesting Monday that State Attorney Melissa Nelson and the U.S. Department of Justice investigate this matter as a hate crime.

That's because Welch said prior to the attack, the corrections officer called her “Kunta Kinte,” a fictional slave, was the main character in the book and miniseries “Roots.”

When WJCT News asked JSO Undersheriff Pat Ivey last week if any racial slurs were used in referring to Welch, he said, “I have no idea of the specifics of the comments.”

The State Attorney's Office sent an emailed later Monday saying “This case is being handled by our Human Rights Division, which reviews allegations of excessive force and hate-motivated crimes. Given that this is now a pending matter, we will have no further comment.”

Despite Thompson’s coworkers coming forward about the attack, leading to her arrest and firing, Welch said during the incident, they didn’t stop it.

“Everybody that was at work that night, they stood around and watched, they watched this happen,” she said.

In addition to looking into the matter as a hate crime, Crump said he wants the Justice Department to investigate whether this a pattern and practice existing within JSO violating constitutional rights of citizens.  

He questions how Thompson knew where to take Welch and punch her away from video surveillance cameras.

"Who did she learn this from?," Crump said. 

Crump has represented families in some high-profile cases like the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Thompson was arrested on July 5 and charged with battery, a misdemeanor and official misconduct, a felony.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.