Polk County

Death investigation underway after violent inmates dies at Central Florida jail

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a registered sex offender after deputies said he violently attacked detention deputies at the South County Jail.

Eric Nelson, 46, was arrested Dec. 23 by the Lakeland Police Department, which had responded to a report of a possible burglary suspect running away from the Taco Bell on U.S. Highway 98 North.

Officer caught up to Nelson along the street in a Starbucks parking lot, and found syringes and a baggie containing a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine in a backpack.

Nelson told the officers that he uses the needles to “shoot meth.” He was placed under arrest and charged with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.


According to deputies, after being transported to the Sheriff’s Processing Center, Nelson became agitated and cursed at the jail and nursing staff.

Nelson stated that he “hadn’t slept in five days” and had recently gotten out of prison and “sometimes you have to prove yourself.”

Medical staff noted that he appeared to be under the influence of illegal narcotics, and was placed in a private holding where he became enraged and began repeatedly kicking the cell door.

Deputies said that due to his violent behavior and threats to harm deputies and other inmates, medical staff determined that he would need to be placed in the medical dorm on suicide watch.

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Nelson was then transported to the South County Jail in Frostproof, where he was meant to be placed in the medical dorm on suicide watch.

After arriving at the jail, Nelson punched a deputy twice in the face and hit, kicked, and bit other deputies when they attempted to handcuff him, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Deputies used an agency-issued chemical agent spray in order to gain control over the inmate, which had no effect, and the inmate continued to violently fight and resist the deputies.

Deputies finally were able to handcuff and put restraints on Nelson and took him to a cell, where he was placed on the floor so the restraints could be removed. As deputies were preparing to leave, they noticed that he wasn’t breathing, the news release said.

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Medical staff immediately began CPR, and Nelson was transported to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

According to the sheriff’s office, Nelson has an extensive 26-year criminal history, beginning in 1996, including rape, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, failure of a sex offender to report name or residence change, fugitive from justice, grand theft and drug possession.

Per standard procedure, this incident is being investigated by the 10th Judicial Circuit Officer-Involved Deadly Incident Task Force, an internal investigation by the PCSO Administrative Investigations Unit and an independent investigation by the Florida State Attorney’s Office, which will render a final decision on the deputies’ use of protective action.

The Polk County Medical Examiner will conduct the autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death.

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