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Polk County Sheriff’s Office Investigating Attempted Murder Incident At The South County Jail

Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office are investigating an attempted murder that occurred at the South County Jail in unincorporated Frostproof on Thursday, May 13th. The male victim of the attempted murder is at an area hospital in critical condition and he is not expected to survive.

On May 13th, 2021 at approximately 7:40 p.m., a detention deputy was conducting checks on inmates on suicide watch in the “S” Medical dorm of the South County Jail. While conducting these checks, the deputy came to room 2 which was housing two inmates on suicide watch. One of the inmates, the male victim (inmate #1), was lying face down on a mattress under his blanket and was not moving, apparently sleeping. The deputy asked the other inmate (inmate #2) in the cell to get inmate #1’s attention. Inmate #2 lifted inmate #1’s arm which partially elevated his head exposing blood beneath his head.

The detention deputy entered the cell with another deputy. Inmate #1 was unconscious. The deputy called for immediate medical assistance. Nursing staff responded and began to render aid to the inmate and requested an ambulance.

Inmate #1 was transported to a local hospital for treatment. The inmate had a swollen eye and swelling and bleeding of the brain.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office crime scene staff and investigators responded to the South County Jail and the hospital to assist with evidence collection and scene documentation. 

Earlier during the same day, Thursday, May 13th, 2021, at approximately 3:20 p.m., a nurse and detention deputy were distributing medication to the inmates in the S Medical dorm. At the time this was being completed, the nurse and deputy came to the cell (room 2) which was housing 4 inmates on suicide watch at the time. The deputy observed inmate John Ward Smith, 36, of Lakeland standing above an inmate (inmate #3) laying on the floor with his (Smith’s) foot on the neck of inmate #3 on the floor. The deputy immediately entered the cell and separated the inmates.

The two inmates, John Smith and inmate #3, were removed from the cell and moved to different cells. Inmate #3 was evaluated and treated by jail medical staff—he had a bruised lip and a knot on his head. He was not seriously injured. There is a pending charge against inmate John Smith for the battery on inmate #3.

After the removal and movement of the two inmates, inmate #1 was observed sleeping on his mattress. From the time the other two inmates (Smith and inmate #3) were removed until the time inmate #1 was found unresponsive in the cell 2, there were two inmates in the cell, inmate #1 and inmate #2, both on suicide watch.

Interviews were conducted with the three inmates who were in the cell with inmate #1 (who was transported to the hospital). Inmate #3, who was the victim of a battery by John Smith, told deputies that prior to John Smith battering him, and both of them being removed to a different cell, he never witnessed anyone batter inmate #1 but stated he did leave the cell for a period of time to see the Nurse. Inmate #2, who was in the cell with inmate #1, was uncooperative during his interview and refused to provide any detailed information to deputies. John Smith also refused to speak to Law Enforcement.

Search warrants were obtained during which DNA oral buccal swabs, fingernail clippings, and hand swabs were collected from all three inmates who were with the inmate who is the victim of the attempted murder.

The criminal investigation is active and ongoing. Due to the serious nature of the anticipated charges (attempted murder / murder) and anticipated death of inmate #1, the State Attorney’s Office has been notified and has been consulted during the investigation. It is standard PCSO policy for four separate, independent investigations on all inmate in-custody deaths (the death of inmate #1 appears likely at this point). The PCSO completes a death investigation (criminal investigation) and an administrative (internal) investigation to review and determine if internal policies and practices were followed. The Polk County Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death. All the investigative findings are forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office for their investigation and review.

Victim names are being withheld because of Marsy’s Law and FSS 119.071(2)(m)1 (witness to a murder). 

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