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Miami corrections officer charged in teen's death used bribery system, indictment says

Officers reportedly use honey buns, candy bars and other food from vending machines to entice their young wards to use violence on another inmate.
by Erik Ortiz and Jonathan Sperling /  / Updated 

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Dangling rewards and special privileges before young inmates, an officer at Miami's juvenile lockup masterminded an attack on another inmate who was beaten so severely that he died, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.

As part of a coded bounty system known in prison vernacular as "honey-bunning" — for the sweet rolls sometimes offered as rewards — detention officer Antwan Lenard Johnson ordered the attack on 17-year-old Elord Revolte at the Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center in August 2015, the indictment says. The document refers to the victim as "E.R." because he was a minor at the time of his death.

At a news conference, federal prosecutors in Miami announced charges Monday afternoon against Johnson for civil rights violations that resulted in Revolte's death.

"This cannot and will not stand," said Benjamin Greenberg, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. "The United States Constitution protects every person in the country, including those who are detained in juvenile detention facilities. When an officer abuses his or her badge and violates the civil rights of another person, this office and the FBI will hold that officer accountable."

Greenberg acknowledged that the practice of honey-bunning is commonly used at juvenile detention centers in Florida. However, he declined to comment on the specifics of any other investigations.

Image: Elord Revolte
Elord Revolte was beaten to death by inmates at a Miami juvenile detention center on Aug. 30, 2015.Courtesy Miami Herald

Johnson "operated a bounty system in order to help ensure obedience and officer respect," the indictment alleges. He also encouraged juvenile detainees, in exchange for rewards and privileges such as extra recreational time or snacks, to assault Revolte, it says.

Last fall, the Miami Herald series "Fight Club" examined a statewide system in Florida in which officers use honey buns, candy bars and other food from employee vending machines to entice their young wards to use violence on another inmate as a form of punishment.

The Department of Juvenile Justice has previously denied that it was aware of such a system, according to The Herald. In a statement Monday, Secretary Christina Daly, the head of the department, said it was moving to fire Johnson.

"It is our expectation that any staff who jeopardize the safety of youth be held fully accountable for their actions, including criminal prosecution," she said. "The behavior detailed in the indictment is appalling and inexcusable."

Daly added that the department would work with the relevant agencies involved, and that it also cooperated with the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office during their investigations, although those resulted in no criminal charges.

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According to federal prosecutors, Johnson used coded language, such as "off my face," and nonverbal gestures, including nods, to signal other juvenile offenders to attack Revolte.

The inmates took part so that they wouldn't be targeted themselves, prosecutors said.

Johnson wanted Revolte punished because the teenager had been acting out and had questioned Johnson's authority, prosecutors said at the news conference.

On Aug. 30, about 15 to 20 detainees punched and kicked Revolte in a part of the center known as Module 9, reported NBC Miami. While he was assessed by medical personnel following the brutality, he wasn't taken to a hospital until another checkup almost a day later, according to a review. He died at the hospital.

The juveniles who took part were briefly locked in their cells. After help arrived, and mere minutes after the assault occurred, prosecutors say, Johnson and another guard acting under his direction unlocked all of the cells so that the juveniles could return to the common area, where they would receive their prize: watching TV.

"While unlocking the cells, Johnson acknowledged and fist-bumped the juvenile who had initiated the attack," said Greenberg.

An inspector general's report following Revolte's death — the second last year involving a juvenile held in state custody — found that a system of employee failures led to the melee and that officers were not forthcoming about how many people were involved.

The report also noted discrepancies between Johnson's testimony about what he witnessed when the fight broke out and the written reports he had filed.

Video surveillance viewed as part of the report, however, said Johnson and another detention officer appeared to respond appropriately and attempted to defuse the situation.

Following the attack, the Department of Juvenile Justice said, five employees either quit or were fired and seven other workers were reprimanded.

Three days before the attack, Revolte was arrested in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami on an armed robbery charge, according to The Herald. He had run away from a Miami Beach foster home.

Prosecutors had been deciding whether to charge him as an adult at the time of his death.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott told NBC News last fall that the allegations of detention officers exploiting juveniles to fight were "unacceptable."

"The goal is constantly to hold people accountable, and also constantly try to figure out how can you improve so there's less of a chance of this happening," he said.

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