1 inmate dead, several injured in fight at federal prison
Longstanding tensions between rival gangs at the nation’s largest federal prison led to a fight
By Lisa Maria Garza
SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. — Longstanding tensions between rival gangs at the federal prison in Sumter County — the nation’s largest — led to a fight Sunday that left one inmate dead and several others injured, according to the prison workers union chief.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that an “altercation between multiple inmates” occurred about 11:45 a.m. at the high-security unit of the Federal Correctional Complex-Coleman, about 50 miles northwest of Orlando.
Troi Venable, 39, was taken to a local hospital, where he later died. Venable had been serving a 17-year prison sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to federal prison officials. He had been incarcerated at Coleman since December 2017.
“No staff injuries were reported and at no time was the public in danger,” prison spokesman Dale Grafton said.
Coleman is a sprawling complex of penitentiary units with five sections: two high-security institutions, a low and medium-security facility and a camp for female inmates.
Visitation has been suspended for the high-security unit, known as Coleman I, which houses more than 1,300 male inmates. In all, Coleman houses a total of 6,664 prisoners.
Joe Rojas, the union leader and a guard at Coleman, said Sunday’s fight was the latest in a series of dangerous incidents over the last several weeks between a primarily African American gang and a white supremacist prison gang.
“It was a black inmate that was stabbed by a white inmate," Rojas said of Venable, who was killed with a homemade knife.
Prisoners have been fighting in the recreation yard, ignoring commands from guards and refusing to go back into their cells, according to Rojas.
“That’s a sign that something big is going to happen,” he said, adding that lockdowns were briefly in place after each of the previous incidents but lifted too soon despite his objections.
Word has already spread about the deadly fight to inmates at other institutions, Rojas said, and there is concern among guards that violent retaliation is imminent.
“We’ve got two rival gangs fighting each other," he said. “That’s going to be really bad for us here because you know they’re going to want revenge."
Coleman has a history of prison riots, corruption scandals and is known for housing some of the nation’s most notorious criminals.
Former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and convicted serial child molester Larry Nassar and Amine El Khalifi, who convicted of a plot to bomb the U.S. Capitol, are currently serving sentences at the complex. Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat who represented a portion of Central Florida, is incarcerated there for her conviction on fraud charges.
Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger served a portion of his two life sentences at Coleman before he was transferred last year to another prison in West Virginia and was beaten to death by inmates there, authorities said.
©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)