Florida officials say three current and former prison employees were members of the Ku Klux Klan who planned to kill a former inmate who is black.
The three men — Thomas Jordan Driver, 25, David Elliot Morgan, 47, and 42-year-old Charles Thomas Newcomb — each were arrested Thursday on one state count of conspiracy to commit murder, according to a statement from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office.
Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office says they planned the murder after the inmate’s release from prison as retaliation for a fight between him and one of the workers.
Driver and Morgan are current employees of the Department of Corrections, and Newcomb is a former corrections employee. The state’s statement says Driver had the fight with the inmate.
The case will be prosecuted in Columbia County in North Florida.
The wide-ranging investigation included the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and various state and local agencies. The FBI’s office in Jacksonville said it would not comment on an open investigation.
The charges mark just the latest black eye for the Florida Corrections Department.
Last fall, DOC officials fired nearly 50 prison employees, including several over allegations that they punched and beat inmates.
The deaths of inmates Randall Jordan-Aparo and Darren Rainey also drew attention. Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner, was punished in 2012 with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body. Jordan-Aparo was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell.
Witnesses say guards at Dade Correctional Institution left Rainey alone for two hours in a locked, scalding hot shower as punishment for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up. The warden at Dade Correctional was fired.
Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, who was hired late last year to lead the troubled agency, called the arrests “disquieting.”
“We are moving swiftly to terminate the employees arrested today and working closely with Office of the Attorney General to assist in their prosecution,” she said in a statement.
“Our Department has zero tolerance for racism or prejudice of any kind. The actions of these individuals are unacceptable and do not, in any way, represent the thousands of good, hardworking honorable correctional officers employed at the Department of Corrections.”
The case will be prosecuted in Columbia County in north Florida. The State Attorney’s office there did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Driver and Moran are being held in Union County jail. Newcomb is in Alachua County Jail on a $750,000 bond.
Frank Ancona, imperial wizard of the KKK group to which the three men were said to belong, did not confirm or deny their membership.
“We at the TAK do not in any way condone, tolerate, or support any type of illegal activity in our organization and because of this we would stand by any of our members pending a decision by a court of law, not a decision of the court of media or public opinion,” Ancona said.
Associated Press material contributed to this report.