2-minute jail fight between Jacksonville inmate and another twice his size ends in death

2-minute jail fight between Jacksonville inmate and another twice his size ends in death

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Coty Joseph Riley’s March 19 obituary is short but sweet.

Born April 7, 1990, in Tampa, it said the 31-year-old Jacksonville man was “extremely loved and will be missed.”

“In memory of the man he was and life he lived through good times and bad,” it continues. “He will forever be in our hearts.

His spiral to that obituary started with an armed-robbery arrest on Jan. 29, 2021, then a March 4 fight with a fellow inmate over twice his size in the Duval County jail over a $2 bag lunch, newly released Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office documents show.

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It continued with the 320-pound suspect punching or shoving the 145-pound Riley hard enough so that he “fell against the wall or possibly a shelf inside of the cell” and hit his head, part of an 18-page disposition report said. The report has multiple inmate witnesses telling detectives the bigger man then “continuously punched the victim in the face and head while he was lying on the floor.”

Riley died two weeks later at UF Health, and the medical examiner eventually ruled it a homicide and the cause blunt-force trauma to the head, the report said.

Late last month the investigation ruled Riley’s death a justifiable homicide because Riley was deemed the initial aggressor and punched first, putting the suspect in a headlock in mutual combat.

Riley's Florida Department of Corrections inmate photo.

Riley’s Florida Department of Corrections inmate photo.

Of the inmates who witnessed the initiation of the fight, “all describe the deceased victim as the first aggressor” with the suspect “returning non-deadly force to the deceased victim’s non-deadly force,” according to that two-page disposition report from the State Attorney’s Office.

“In fact, all the witnesses expressed great surprise that the deceased victim had died because of the injuries sustained during this physical fight,” the report said.

It said Riley suffered a skull fracture when the suspect pushed himself out of the headlock and punched him into the wall. The skull fracture led to the brain bleed that was the proximate cause of death, according to the report.

“Criminal charges against this suspect cannot be pursued as the force he used was legally justified,” the report concluded about the suspect. The Florida Times-Union is not naming the 35-year-old because of this conclusion.

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The report also said the fight was captured on surveillance footage from the jail.

The State Attorney’s Office declined to comment further than providing its report. And the Sheriff’s Office did not respond to questions about its part in the justification decision.

As for Riley’s mother, Christina Cortez, in the hospital when her son was pronounced dead, she said she just wanted to get through Mother’s Day before she spoke more. But she added she has “her own concerns” in a brief text message to The Florida Times-Union.

In addition, Riley’s case follows an inmate death in August after 30-year-old Daniel Christian Taylor was subdued by several officers and left bloodied during an arrest, then ultimately taken off life support.

JSO staff didn’t even know there was a fight

The 18-page disposition report in the latest case is exhaustive, with detectives interviewing multiple inmate witnesses, plus jail medical and corrections staff.

Riley was housed on the second floor in the Violent Crimes Reduction Unit at the jail at 500 E. Adams St.

Officers were first called there at 11 a.m. on March 5, the morning after the unreported fight and when Riley was found in medical distress.

Initially, other inmates thought he was overheated, one pouring water on him after Riley had been lying on the floor of the common area, then walking in and out of his cell before he finally laid down. The report said that’s when jail medical staff were called and took him to their clinic, then to the hospital.

A fire department captain told detectives Riley had no outward signs of trauma. The captain said he asked him if he had taken anything, “and the victim responded by giving a thumbs up,” the report said. Paramedics gave Riley a dose of Narcan en route to the hospital.

Riley arrived at the hospital “alert and conscious,” then became unresponsive, the report said.

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Meanwhile, investigators first spoke with Riley’s cellmate who said he “did not fall or get in a fight or anything which could have led to him being injured,” later explaining he didn’t want to get him in trouble.

It wasn’t until after he died that corrections staff learned there had been a brief fight between Riley and the other inmate just before 5 p.m. on March 4.

Inmates interviewed said it started when the suspect sold a lunch to Riley for $2 but didn’t get paid before he had already eaten it. The larger man became upset, words were exchanged and he “rushed” at the victim in his cell, according to a couple of the accounts.

Riley was holding the other man away from him before throwing a punch and putting him in a headlock. Riley was “slammed” causing him to hit his head on the table or floor, according to one of the inmates. “The suspect then stood over the victim and continued beating him while he was on the floor.”

One inmate said Riley was pushed and hit his head on a stool. Another said he was punched in the face, “tripped over the stool, hit his head on the wall and fell to the ground.”

“You punched me first,” the suspect was heard saying as others broke up the fight. Two recalled him boasting “That’s what you get for f—— with a Louisville slugger.” The documents show it only lasted from 4:57 to 4:59 p.m.

“After the fight, both the deceased victim and suspect continued their activities in the jail,” the report said.

But later the victim complained he was not feeling well, was hot and had a headache before “fainting and falling out” prior to receiving medical attention.

One odd omission

None of the reports provided indicates if the suspect was interviewed by the detectives after Riley’s death.

Jail records state he had been released on March 8, four days after the incident, for time served in a Feb. 16 arrest for failure to appear on a domestic battery charge.

The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to whether detectives did speak with him as part of the post-death investigation.

Both men have extensive criminal histories. The latter has 16 prior arrests in Jacksonville, mostly minor offenses, jail records show.

Riley only had the one in Jacksonville on four counts of armed robbery. Court records show he pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing on Sept. 26.

His Florida Department of Corrections file shows he had been released from prison on Aug. 16 after serving a four-year sentence for a Union County charge of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Those same records show that was the last of multiple overlapping convictions for battery and aggravated battery that started with a home-invasion robbery sentence in June 2012.

dscanlan@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4549

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Justifiable homicide ruled in Jacksonville inmate’s beating death

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