Raiford trial continues; boy wins Soap Box Derby
Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It may have been a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1960. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.
• The trial of 14 former Raiford State Prison guards charged with violating the civil rights of 21 inmates in Raiford’s maximum security building moved into its third week.
The trial, described as “trouble plagued,” opened June 27 with the hospitalization of Leo Mack, chief deputy U.S. Marshal, who usually acted as bailiff in the federal court, and George Walker, a special guard employed to assist in transporting prisoner witnesses from the Duval County Jail to the Federal Building.
The trial closed its second week with the attempted suicide of one of the prisoner witnesses, Robert Mott, and the disclosure that another prisoner, Frazier Robertson, had apparently been severely beaten by fellow inmates while they were being held in the City Jail during the trial.
Robertson declared he sustained his injuries in a shower stall fall, but the extent of his injuries led a deputy marshal to report the man had “obviously been worked over.”
One of the prisoner witnesses called to testify brought U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson, lawyers and members of the jury to their feet when he demonstrated how he could remove locked handcuffs from his wrists with a bobby pin.
The demonstration was staged by 28-year-old Raymond Butler, who was serving a life term for the murder of a fellow inmate while Butler was confined at Raiford following conviction on a forged check charge.
Under cross examination by defense attorney Chester Bedell, Butler declared he had been able to remove his handcuffs several times when he had been shackled to the bars in his cell as punishment.
Picking up a pair of handcuffs he had entered into evidence earlier in the trial to demonstrate the type used at Raiford, Bedell asked Butler to show him how he could remove them.
“I’ll get them off, but I won’t show you how I do it,” said Butler.
After being handcuffed, Butler asked for a wooden match. He worked with it for a time, but was unable to remove the handcuffs. He then asked for a metal paper clip, with which he was also unsuccessful.
“If I had a piece of razor blade or other equipment I usually have in my cell, I could get out in a minute,” said Butler
At that point Bedell reached in his pocket, took out a bobby pin and asked Butler, “Will this do?”
Butler answered, “If it’s thin enough.”
Using the pin, Butler loosened the cuff on his left wrist until he could slip it off, still locked.
Apparently the prisoner was slipping the bobby pin under the ratchets which provided for different handcuff sizes, then pulling the confining circle of steel open a ratchet at a time.
Earlier in his direct testimony, Butler related an incident in which he said he was tortured and abused.
He said he asked guard John Batten for a match. Batten did not answer, Butler testified, but later returned with another guard, Melvin McKinney. Butler said they removed him from the cell, took him to another unit of the building and shackled him, nude, in a sitting position. He said Guard Lieutenant Earl Leslie Chesser sprayed him with a fire hose the next morning and threw salt under him and on him. Chesser repeated the treatment the next day, Butler said.
During the two days and a night he was shackled to the bars of his cell, Butler said, he also was hosed twice by Batten and “salted down” twice more.
Butler then said guards McKinney and Russell Carter finally released him from the bars but he was so cramped, he fell over backward as his wrists were released and injured his head on the floor of the cell.
Butler was also used as a witness to describe some of the treatment allegedly inflicted on prisoner Talmadge Sellers, an inmate the government contended died from an overdose of tear gas.
Butler said he saw Sellers confined in a small supply room while Chesser fired three shells of tear gas into it. He later saw Sellers taken from the room, supported by two guards who beat him with their fists as they dragged him along. Butler also said he learned Sellers died shortly afterward.
A former Raiford medical technician, Robert Whaley, gave testimony that disputed to some extent the injuries prisoners claimed they sustained as result of torture and abuse, and the severity of their punishment.
Whaley testified he saw prisoner Ruel Bryant, who claimed to have run the gamut of punishment, chained to his cell bars one day. He said Chesser, who was in charge of the maximum security building, had suggested no medication be given to prisoners shackled in their cells as punishment.
“Chesser said,” testified Whaley, “what was the use of punishing a man, then giving him something to relieve it?”
After Bryant was released from his shackles, Whaley said, he examined the man and gave him salves and ointments for the abrasions of his wrists and ankles and an inflamed area at the base of his spine. Whaley also said he dressed the inflamed area.
Several days later, Whaley testified, the inflamed area on Bryant’s spine developed into a cyst, which the prisoner removed himself. Whaley said he then recommended Bryant be hospitalized, which was done.
Questioned about Sellers, Whaley said he examined the prisoner in his cell after the gassing. He said Sellers had abrasions on his wrists and ankles and tear gas burns on various parts of his body. Whaley said he was familiar with tear gas burns and those he observed on Sellers were minor. He also said Sellers could have caused the burns himself by applying water to the gassed areas of his body and noted that water was available in the man’s cell.
“Did Sellers seem to be oriented when you treated him?” asked John Murphy, government attorney.
“He wouldn’t ever answer me or cooperate in any way,” Whaley answered.
• Haydon Burns announced his decision to seek re-election as mayor-commissioner in 1963 before he would seek the Florida governorship in the 1964 Democratic primary election.
Following his strong third-place finish in the first primary the previous May, Burns announced he would not be a candidate for re-election as mayor, leaving him free to campaign for governor in 1964.
He said his decision to seek re-election was prompted primarily by requests from a number of businessmen, civic leaders, friends and advisors.
“They have suggested,” said Burns, “that the proper order of events would be for me to aspire for re-election as mayor in 1963 before re-entering the governor’s race in 1964. They suggested that the prestige of the mayor’s office as a current position would be much more valuable than would be a position of past mayor.”
Burns also said his decision to seek re-election was further motivated by a desire to more effectively manage the broad municipal improvement program he and other officials initiated and had developed.
“Jacksonville is now in its greatest year of progress and I don’t think we have obtained our full degree of potential.” said Burns.
Aside from his duties as mayor and commissioner in charge of the police and fire departments, Burns was also vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and on the board of directors of the American Municipal Association.
• An increased fare schedule for passengers on Jacksonville Coach Company buses was proposed in a bill introduced to City Council. The measure was passed on first reading and referred to the council’s Public Service and Motor Transportation Committee for study before final action by the full council.
The bill called for a cash fare increase of 5 cents, from 20 cents to 25 cents. The proposed schedule also increased the price of five tokens from 90 cents to $1. No increase in the existing 5-cent transfer charge was requested.
Under the terms of the bill, the coach company would be permitted, but not required, to allow children under the age of 15 to ride a bus for 10 cents. The provision would not affect the existing charge of 4 cents for transporting children to and from school. The firm’s General Superintendent, R.H. Griffith, described that charge as “the lowest school fare of any city in the nation.”
The proposal also provided for creation of a new weekly pass allowing unlimited rides for $3.75.
“The cost of labor and equipment has steadily increased,” said Griffith. “A few weeks ago the company renewed its labor contract with its employees for a period of 25 months. Under this contract our men were granted increases to provide for the increase in the cost of living.”
The company also added 10 51-foot buses in 1959, said Griffith, and had on order 26 new air-conditioned buses costing in excess of $31,000 each.
He said he regretted having to ask for the fare increases, but said the company had no alternative “if we are to maintain the same high class standard of service we are now giving.”
• The request for the fare increase brought up the question of who was paying for the free shuttle buses that operated Downtown as a service for shoppers.
Notices were posted on both buses to the effect that the service was paid for by the Downtown Council of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce. Letters were sent to members of the City Council describing the financing in detail.
The communication from Downtown Council General Chairman Fred Schultz and Walter Lane, chairman of parking, stated, “Since the announcement of an increase in bus fares in Jacksonville there have been numerous phone calls on the status of the two shuttle buses.”
The letter pointed out the Downtown Council had signed two contracts with the coach company, which called for payment of $18,780 annually for the service. According to Downtown Council figures, the actual operating cost of the two buses was $15,565 a year.
The letter also stated the Downtown Council funded the service by selling ads inside and outside the two buses and the money went directly to the Jacksonville Coach Company. In 1959, a deficit of $2,370 between the contract price and the advertising revenue was made up by the Downtown Council.
• Juvenile Court Judge Marion Gooding declared his was an agency “with an aim to make useful citizens” out of delinquent and/or neglected children under 17.
“It is our job to instill character in these boys and girls who have committed offenses. We try to preserve their constitutional rights. It is the aim of the court to act as pseudo-parents to these children.
“We want to rehabilitate them, not send them to prison. It would be economically unsound and morally unwise to commit every offender,” said Gooding.
He also said punishment was secondary in the program and that in most cases “certain privileges” were taken and restitution was made if the situation warranted such action.
When a child was taken into custody, the first step was to determine if it was a delinquency or dependency case. If a delinquency case, the offender was placed in the Juvenile shelter or the County Jail.
If it was a dependent (neglect) case, the subject could be released to parents or someone authorized to keep the child until the case could be studied further.
The case was then assigned to one of seven counselors who investigated the situation to determine if the case should be brought before Gooding or handled in an “unofficial” manner.
Offenders were not fingerprinted or photographed unless so ordered by Gooding and court records were not kept on all cases.
In 1959, the Duval County Juvenile Court handled 3,000 judicial cases (those on which records were kept) with Gooding, one chief counselor and six assistant counselors operating the program.
• Twelve-year-old Wade Popwell established himself as the favorite to represent Jacksonville in the National Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. The local competition, sponsored by the Jacksonville Junior Chamber of Commerce, was held on an unopened section of the expressway near the Ellis Road overpass.
Popwell won the Class B championship by a wide margin when his gravity-powered homemade racer crossed the finish line a full three seconds faster than any other competitor in his class or in the more competitive Class A preliminary races.
After the race, some parents protested Popwell’s win, questioning the weight of the racer and modifications to the axle and wheel assembly. After the official committee examined the vehicle and reviewed the complaints and the rules, it was decided Popwell’s victory was valid.
Popwell would face the champion the the Class A competition in a week to determine who from Jacksonville would take an all-expenses-paid trip with his parents to the national finals.
• The newly organized City Pardon Board adopted a set of rules making it more difficult for an inmate to be released from the City prison farm.
New members Ralph Walter, John Lanahan and W.O. Mattox Jr. adopted the rules to improve board operations and avoid the criticism that had plagued the board, which had recently left office and had no written set of rules regarding criteria for an inmate’s release.
Among the new rules was a provision that no person convicted of driving while intoxicated could be released without the approval of the municipal judge.
Another requirement for a pardon in a driving while intoxicated case was that if an applicant’s car was involved in an accident with another vehicle, proof had to be shown that the accident was covered by insurance.
No person convicted on any charge of selling moonshine would be eligible for release unless at the time of the hearing there was produced a letter from the officer in charge of the “shine detail” recommending the release.
The new rules also stated that no person would be eligible for parole unless he had served half of his prison term or paid half of the fine, except in cases of prescribed emergencies or at Christmas.
No more special meetings would be held unless notice of the meeting had been posted in the Office of the City Recorder for at least 24 hours before the meeting. In addition, all regular meetings would be held in the City Council chambers on Monday of each week unless that day was a City holiday, in which case the meeting would be held the following day.
The rules were released by Walter at the Pardon Board’s meeting. He was its chair by virtue of being City Council president.
The board then denied three applications for pardons and granted one.
Pardoned was a 31-year-old man with the condition he be adjudged mentally incompetent by the county judge. The man was sentenced by Municipal Judge John Santora on June 24 to serve 30 days for being drunk and creating a disturbance.