Oakleaf Plantation resident Kirenda Welch says she never expected an evening drive home from her son’s basketball game would end in her arrest and beating. The Jacksonville corrections officer who allegedly struck her was arrested and fired Thursday.
Welch was pulled over on June 29 and ultimately arrested during the minor traffic stop because she was driving with a suspended license. She said she wasn’t aware it was suspended. After being apprehended in front of her two sons, she was taken to be booked into jail.
“And this is where hell started,” she said.
Twenty-one-year-old Officer Catherine Thompson, who had been a JSO employee for 14 months, did not get along with Welch after patting her down, Welch said.
“From that point on we went back and forth all night,” Welch said.
Welch said after she had an allergic reaction to the uniform she was made to change into, Thompson was reluctant to give her new pants.
“I said to her, ‘You’re one of those cops. You give cops a bad name,’” Thompson said.
After another verbal exchange, Thompson placed Welch in four-point restraints. That means handcuffs and leg shackles attached with a chain, JSO Undersheriff Pat Ivey said.
“By the time I could ask her to loosen up those shackles, she punched me dead in my forehead, closed fist,” Thompson said. “I was in shock that was happening to me. I fell. I was back on my back. She grabbed my head with both her hands and slammed the left side of my head into the concrete wall and kept punching me.”
Welch said she’s in the very early stages of pregnancy and was worried about protecting her baby throughout the incident. She said she bit the corrections officer’s hand to fight off the punches, and during the scuffle Thompson pepper sprayed her.
“My eyes burned so bad,” she said. “I’ve never felt anything like that.”
Ivey said the punching started after Welch said something to the officer “that infuriated her.” Thompson’s coworkers in the intake area backed up Welch’s account.
“[The corrections officers] know what’s right. They know how they’re trained. They know what’s in the confines of the law and the policy,” Ivey said. “They came forward and said that this had occurred. That was our mechanism being notified.”
Welch, who filed a complaint with JSO, describes the whole incident as a blur.
“I cannot believe this is still happening in 2018,” she said. “You hear about it but you don’t believe it’s going to happen.”
Thompson was arrested for battery and official misconduct. Ivey said the misconduct charge, a third-degree felony, stems from her not being honest in her report of the incident.
Thompson was still within JSO's 18-month new-hire probation period, he said.
“She has been terminated,” Ivey said. “If you are on probation you do not have some of the protections other employees do that are full-time and not on probation.”
Thompson is the fourth JSO employee arrested since the beginning of the year.