Friday, April 13, 2012

Corrections --- The toughest police beat in America?

On Sunday night, March 18, 2012, at about 10:00 p.m., Sergeant Ruben Thomas Jr., 24, was murdered while he was working at the Columbia Correctional Institution, located six (6) miles east of Lake City, Columbia County, Florida. According to the initial reports released by the Department of Corrections (D.O.C.), Sgt. Thomas was in one of the wings of a dorm checking on an inmate when he was stabbed in the neck by an inmate named Richard Franklin. Franklin reportedly used a handmade edged weapon (a "shank").

D.O.C. officials said there had been a call through the intercom system for an inmate that indicated he wanted to see an officer. Rather than call for another officer to go down there and handle this situation, Sgt. Thomas responded there himself. Another correctional officer in the control room saw Franklin chase and then stab Sgt. Thomas several times in the neck. Investigators believe that when Sgt. Thomas realized he was in danger he tried to get away, but it was too late.

Franklin assaulted and injured another guard too. This other officer, William Brewer, 54, was trying to lock down inmates when the subject Franklin attacked him with a sock which had been filled with something very heavy. Before being subdued he struck Officer Brewer in the eye. Officer Brewer was treated at a local hospital, and then released. He apparently suffered a broken orbital bone, but with additional medical treatment he is expected to recover.

Sgt. Thomas was transported to Shands Lake Shore Hospital in Lake City, where he died. He was a six-year veteran, had a young daughter and was engaged to be married. His fiancée is pregnant with their second child.

The investigation is being handled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (F.L.D.E.), which D.O.C. officials indicate is normal procedure.

What do we know about the man who brutally murdered Sgt. Ruben Thomas? Well, the subject Franklin, 37, had been charged, convicted and then sentenced to life in prison for --- guess what? Murder! Franklin, who apparently hails from the Daytona Beach area, is serving two life sentences for first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. Both of these crimes occurred in Volusia County in 1994 and he
was received by the D.O.C. in 1995.

The subject Franklin had murdered a 25-year-old Bethune-Cookman University student, Gregory Roper. Roper bled to death after he had been shot several times in his legs and on November 24, 1994 his body was found in some woods near Daytona Beach.

Franklin apparently showed no remorse at all regarding his murder of Gregory Roper and nearly a month later he was once again engaged in violent criminal activity. He committed a new robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon when he shot a 72-year-old man in the parking lot of an Ormond Beach apartment complex. Then, he stole the man's car. Franklin was arrested a short time later when he crashed the stolen car and tried to flee. He eventually also received a life sentence for these crimes too.

Franklin is apparently one of those very violent career criminals who doesn't have any regard at all for his fellow human beings. Even though I don't have his "rap sheet" to look at, I would guess that he has many other arrests to his credit. One article I read indicated that he was arrested on a battery charge in June of 1994, but he escaped about two months before Gregory Roper was murdered. He also apparently had once been charged with Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, which is also a felony, but I don't know any of the details regarding that offense.

The D.O.C. also indicated that Franklin was anything but a model prisoner. He had a history of violence and has run afoul of the rules at several of the other D.O.C. facilities where he has been incarcerated. According to Franklin’s D.O.C. disciplinary reports, from Sept. 21, 1995 - July, 7, 2011, Franklin has been cited for fighting, being disrespectful to officials, lying to staff, disobeying orders, disobeying regulations, theft, disorderly conduct, refusing to work, making spoken threats, attempt to conspire, possessing contraband and taking part in obscene/profane acts. The D.O.C. reports that while Franklin has been in prison he has been disciplined more than 50 times for various violations of the rules that he has committed. No, he's definitely not a model prisoner!

So, what happens to Franklin now? Well, first of all, he was transferred to a maximum security facility. In hindsight, I would venture to say that's where he probably should have been all along. Columbia Correctional Institution has inmates with close, medium, minimum and community custody grades. The facility houses all levels of inmates with the exception of death row (maximum security).

The subject Franklin was a close custody inmate. A close custody inmate is supposedly confined separately from the general inmate population. These close custody social misfits are those who commit acts that threaten the safety of others, threaten the security of the institution or demonstrate an inability to live in the general population without abusing the rights and privileges of others.

Franklin will eventually stand trial for the murder of Sgt. Ruben Thomas. If convicted, as I hope he will be, I would also hope that the jury will recommend the death penalty. This is something that did not happen regarding the death of college student Gregory Roper back in 1994. If that previous jury had recommended that Franklin receive the death penalty, the judge hearing the case indicated that he would have followed the jury's recommendation, but because they didn't, his hands were tied. You see, here in Florida, when a judge goes against a jury's recommendation of life without parole, the Florida Supreme Court will almost always overrule the judge and make the judge give the life without parole sentence, instead of the death penalty.

If that other jury had recommended the death penalty, then Franklin would have been on death row at Raiford, and Sgt. Ruben Thomas would still be alive today. According to the Florida Supreme Court web site 12.68 years is the average length of stay on Florida's death row prior to an inmate being executed. And 14.29 years is the average number of years between the offense taking place and then execution. Because Franklin began his incarceration back in 1995 (about 17 years ago), it seems a safe bet that Franklin would have been executed by now, and no longer a threat to anyone.

This case involving the murder of Sgt. Thomas is a perfect example of why we still need the death penalty. Most people in America are good and decent individuals, but unfortunately, there are still those extremely violent few, like Richard Franklin, who are real monsters. Shakespeare once wrote, "Hell is empty and all the devils are here." I firmly believe that Shakespeare was talking about evil and wicked men like Richard Franklin.

If Franklin is found guilty of the murder of Sgt. Thomas, will his jury recommend he get life without parole again? I hope not. If he once again gets life, what's to prevent him from again attacking and murdering another corrections officer? Nothing! It reportedly costs an average of $53.35 a day, or $19,473 per year, to house an inmate in the Florida prison system. Franklin needs to be executed!!!! Let's save some money, and maybe even the life of another corrections officer.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement, "It is always troubling when members of our law enforcement community lose their lives in the line of duty. These brave men and women dedicate themselves each day to ensure Florida is a safe place to live. We all need to remember the sacrifices and heroic
efforts of our officers."

A special fund has been established that will assist the family with immediate and future expenses with the raising and education of Sgt. Thomas' children. You can make a credit card contribution to the Sgt. Ruben Thomas Benefit Fund at:

If you prefer to make a cash or check donation instead, please send it to:

Corrections Foundation
Attention: Sgt. Thomas Fund
501 South Calhoun Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2500

Checks should have "Sgt. Thomas Fund" written in the memo section.

The stated goal for the fund is $40,000, but thanks to the kind generosity of many caring individuals, the fund to date has almost reach the $26,000 mark. I began following this tragic case shortly after it happened, and although I've been side-tracked for several weeks because of my own medical issues I had to deal with, I've now written my own check and sent it off to the
Sgt. Ruben Thomas Benefit Fund.

Won't you please do the same.

Gary P. Jones, Captain [retired]
Fort Lauderdale Police Department
author of book: Badge 149 - "Shots Fired!"