White former corrections officer to go to trial in Florida for beating Black pregnant woman, lying about incident

By Melanie Eversley
NABJ Black News & Views

A Black Florida woman says she is happy to get her day in court Tuesday against a fired white corrections officer who she says beat her, sprayed her with pepper spray point-blank and called her “Kunta Kinte” when she was pregnant.

Kirenda Welch

“I want it to be known and I want there to be consequences,” said Kirenda Welch, a 39-year-old Black mom and research professional from Orange Park, Florida. 

Welch was referring to fired corrections officer Catherine Thompson, now 24, whose trial starts Tuesday in Jacksonville on a felony charge of falsifying documents in relation to Welch’s case and a misdemeanor charge of battery.

 “I want her to get the maximum, which is 12 months, which is ridiculous,” said Welch, a clinical research associate for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “I want her to go to jail and wear my shoes,” Welch said. 

The incident in question took place on June 29, 2018, in Jacksonville. 

Welch says she was driving her older son home from a youth basketball game when her toddler escaped from his car seat, prompting her to make an illegal u-turn to a place where she could pull over. A police officer saw the maneuver and asked Welch if she was aware her license was suspended for driving through an automatic toll taker. She was not and the officer handcuffed her, placed her in the back of a cruiser and took her to the Duval County, Fla., jail. There, Welch balked when she was given a dirty jail uniform to wear. In response, corrections officer Catherine Thompson punched her in the forehead, beat her head against the wall, punched her 15-20 more times, pepper sprayed her at point-blank range and called her names while jail employees looked on, according to Welch.

Thompson, now 24, was fired and arrested six days later on charges of falsifying documents in relation to the incident — a felony — and battery, according to Duval County court records. Thompson has pleaded not guilty. Her trial starts Tuesday. 

Thompson’s defense lawyer, Jessica Megan Goldsborough, was in court Monday, according to an assistant, and could not be reached.

State’s attorney Octavius Holliday, reached by text, said he would reserve comments for after the trial.

Welch is scheduled to testify as is one of Thompson’s former coworkers at the jail, she said.

The incident took place in a jail changing room where there were no cameras, Welch said. After the beating, she was bound and put in a straight chair. She cried, which made the pepper spray burn her eyes even more, she said. It was not until she stopped crying that jail employees removed the restraints, she said.

“Basically, I was tortured,” Welch said.

The woman said once she told the jail employees that she was one-to-two months pregnant, “ … everybody started scattering like little roaches.”

Welch said every aspect of her life and her family members’ lives have been affected by the incident. After progression in the case advanced, she was triggered and now is being treated at a hospital for PTSD, depression and anxiety, she said, adding she was permitted the time out to testify on Tuesday. She cannot drive and has had to use taxis and services like Uber in order to get around. She is on leave from her job on disability. In addition, she began abusing painkillers prescribed to treat a concussion she suffered in the incident, in an attempt to ease her PTSD symptoms, and she has been in recovery treatment too.

Her now-14-year-old son, who was in the car at the time of the incident, also is being treated for mental health symptoms, she said. Her 2-year-old daughter, who she was carrying at the time of the alleged beating, appears to be delayed in talking and also expresses more aggression and anger than her other children, she said. 

“I learned in treatment that sometimes when you go through trauma it changes your DNA and you can pass it onto your kids,” Welch said. 

Initially after the incident, Welch was in conversations with civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, whose headquarters are in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, but after Crump’s firm referred Welch to another closer to her home, she signed up with a new firm. Welch’s current lawyer, Matthew Kachergus, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Welch said she wants her situation to help bring awareness to inequities in the criminal justice system. “I definitely hope it affects other cases,” she said.

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