Three current and former employees of the Florida Department of Corrections who were also members of the Ku Klux Klan were arrested Thursday in an alleged conspiracy to kill a former inmate after his release from prison, the Florida attorney general’s office said in a statement.
The former inmate allegedly targeted by the three men is African American. The defendants “all conspired to kill an inmate after an altercation” between the inmate and one of the three corrections employees some time before November of last year, Attorney General Pam Bondi told reporters on Thursday afternoon, adding, “These men are alleged to be known members of the Ku Klux Klan.” The target of the alleged plot has not been identified by authorities.
Thomas Jordan Driver, 25, David Elliot Moran, 47, and Charles Thomas Newcomb, 42, were charged with one state count each of conspiracy to commit murder. Driver and Morgan worked at the Department of Corrections Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler at the time of their arrest,attorney general office spokesman Whitney Ray said.
Newcomb is a former employee of the same facility, which processes newly-committed male inmates into the state system and provides medical care for inmates across the state.
The two correctional officers who were working for the department at the time of their arrest have been dismissed, the Department of Corrections said on Thursday afternoon in a statement. Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said that the department “has zero tolerance for racism or prejudice of any kind.”
The three men planned on “killing him by injecting him in the neck with insulin,” Bondi told reporters, adding, that they also had a firearm prepared “in case that plan didn’t work.”
According to a partially redacted affidavit released to reporters on Thursday, an unnamed source working with federal investigators told a Jacksonville-based FBI agent about the alleged plot. The unidentified source attended a Klan chapter meeting with Newcomb, Moran, and Driver, where the three “detailed a physical altercation” between Driver and the inmate, and said that they wanted the now-released individual “six feet under.”
Ray identified all three defendants as members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The group is a well-known Klan-affiliated branch, Southern Poverty Law Center senior fellow Mark Potok said in an interview. The group has two known chapters in Missouri, where it is based, and in Alabama. In all, Potok estimates that this particular branch of the Klan has 100 or fewer members, despite the group’s claims in a recent leafleting campaign that its membership is much larger. Potok noted that in recent years, an increasing number of Klan chapters have opted to “go off-the-grid.”
Newcomb identified himself as an “Exalted Cyclops” of the Klan to the FBI’s source, according to the affidavit. The title usually refers to a person who leads a particular chapter (called a Klavern) of the Klan. Both Driver and Moran identified themselves to the source as members of that chapter.
The affidavit contains a partial transcript of one alleged conversation between Newcomb, the FBI source, and Moran, as they conducted surveillance on the former inmate’s residence. In it, the three discuss one version of the alleged plot, which involved abducting the former inmate, taking him to a remote location, and injecting him with insulin:
Newcomb: I set that fishing pole like he’s been fishing, and give him a couple shots, and we sit there and wait on him, we can kind of lay him like he just kind of tippled over into the water. And he can breathe in just a little bit of that water.
Moran: What do you-what do you mean, you talk about taking him fishing or watching him?
Newcomb: I’m talking about jerking his a** up, putting him in the car and taking him down there.
Moran: Yeah, but does he fish?
Newcomb: It don’t matter.
In the transcript, Newcomb eventually says to the group that he knows the inmate fishes because “all n——s fish.” Newcomb also tells Moran and the source that “if we have to do pow-pow, we will,” referring to several rounds of ammunition Newcomb allegedly had loaded into his gun after cleaning them of fingerprints. “But I was trying to do it quietly, ’cause less attention to us,” the affidavit quotes him as saying.
In mid-February, the FBI’s source offered to contact a “professional” to take care of the intended victim for them. Weeks later, the source asked Driver if “a bullet to that guy in [the] chest” would be satisfactory, according to investigators. He replied, “sounds good.”
Shortly after, the FBI notified the former inmate of the threat that was made on his life. The former inmate replied that it must have been “those police,” who “must not be satisfied yet,” the affidavit says. When asked to clarify, he told the FBI about an altercation with an officer while he was incarcerated, presumably Driver.
Bondi told reporters on Thursday that the FBI “staged a homicide scene with the [intended] victim” to make it appear that he had been “brutally murdered,” in order to see the three men’s reactions to the plot being carried out. The FBI source showed a cellphone photo of the staged homicide to each of the three men accused of the plot, the affidavit says. Moran, the source said, was “smiling excitedly” when he saw the photo. Driver “smiled, nodded his head in a yes motion and shook [the source’s] hand in gratitude.”
The FBI arrested all three men on Thursday. They will be prosecuted by Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Cases where employees of law enforcement and the corrections system are identified as Ku Klux Klan members have been “very, very rare” over the past 10 or 15 years, Potok said. Regarding the charges Thursday against the three Florida men, Potok said that the Southern Poverty Law Center has “never heard of anything like this.”
In 2014, a police officer in Fruitland Park, Fla., was fired after investigators accused him of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. However, the veracity of those allegations were contested. In 2006, an 18-year veteran of the Nebraska state troopers was fired after being identified as a Klan member, a decision that the state’s supreme court upheld in 2009.
Newcomb is being held in Alachua County Jail on $750,000.00 bond, according to Ray and to the jail’s inmate records. Both Driver and Moran will be booked at the Union County Jail, Ray said. The case will be prosecuted in Florida’s Columbia County, the attorney general’s office said.
All three men had disciplinary records during their tenure at the Department of Corrections, according to information provided by the department.
Driver, who was hired as a correctional officer in 2010, received two written reprimands in 2012 for “willful violation of rules,” and for “absence without authorized leave.” Moran, who was hired in 1996, was promoted in 2004 to correctional officer sergeant. In 1999 and 2006, he received written reprimands for “conduct unbecoming a public employee.” In 2010 he was sent a supervisory counseling memorandum for abuse of sick leave.
Newcomb was hired as a trainee in 2012, but fired in 2013 for “failure to meet correctional officer’s minimum training requirements,” the department said.
The arrests are the latest in a series of incidents that have recently tarnished the reputation of the state’s corrections department. As the Orlando Sentinel notes, the department fired about 50 of its employees last fall. Some of those fired were accused of beating and punching inmates.
In 2012, a 50-year-old, mentally ill inmate named Darren Rainey died at Dade Correctional Institution after he was placed in a scalding shower for an hour, according an inmate complaint obtained by the Miami Herald last spring. The shower, which burned Rainey so badly that his skin slipped from his bones, was allegedly intended as punishment by the facility’s guards.
Florida Homeland Security investigators, the Florida Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Florida Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office were all involved in the investigation.
[This post, originally published at 11:44 a.m., has been updated multiple times]