Coty Joseph Riley’s March 19 obituary is short but sweet.
Born on April 7, 1990 in Tampa, he said the 31-year-old from Jacksonville was “extremely loved and will be missed”.
“In memory of the man he was and the life he lived in good times and bad,” he continues. “He will forever remain in our hearts.
His spiral to this obituary began with an armed robbery arrest on Jan. 29, 2021, then a fight on March 4 with a fellow inmate more than twice his size in Duval County Jail over a $2 lunch, newly released. Office of the Sheriff and State’s Attorney Office documents show.
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It continued with the 320-pound suspect hitting or pushing the 145-pound Riley hard enough that he ‘falls against the wall or maybe a shelf inside the cell’ and hits his head, according to a report. part of an 18-page decision report. The report contains several detained witnesses who told detectives that the larger man then “continuously punched the victim in the face and head as he lay on the ground”.
Riley died two weeks later at UF Health, and the medical examiner ultimately ruled it a homicide and the cause of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the report.
Late last month, the inquest concluded that Riley’s death was a justifiable homicide, as Riley was thought to be the original assailant and was struck first, putting the suspect in a headlock in a fight mutual.
Of the inmates who witnessed the start of the fight, “all described the deceased victim as the primary aggressor,” with the suspect “returning non-lethal force to the non-lethal force of the deceased victim,” according to this decision report from two pages from the state attorney’s office.
“In fact, all of the witnesses expressed great surprise that the deceased victim died from injuries sustained during this physical fight,” the report said.
He said Riley suffered a fractured skull when the suspect pushed himself out of the headlock and slammed him against the wall. The skull fracture resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage which was the immediate 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 concludes about the suspect. The Florida Times-Union is not naming the 35-year-old because of this finding.
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The report also says the fight was captured on prison surveillance footage.
The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment beyond providing its report. And the sheriff’s office did not respond to questions about its part in the show cause decision.
As for Riley’s mother, Christina Cortez, in the hospital when her son was pronounced dead, she said she just wanted to spend Mother’s Day before talking more. But she added that she had “her own concerns” in a brief text message to the Florida Times-Union.
Additionally, Riley’s case follows the death of an inmate in August after Daniel Christian Taylor, 30 years old was subdued by multiple officers and left bloodied during an arrest, then eventually removed from life support.
JSO staff didn’t even know there was a fight
The 18-page decision report in the latest case is exhaustive, with detectives interviewing several detained witnesses, as well as the prison’s medical and corrections staff.
Riley was housed on the second floor of the prison’s Violent Crime Abatement Unit at 500 E. Adams St.
Officers were first called there at 11 a.m. on March 5, the day after the unreported scuffle and when Riley was found in medical distress.
Initially, other inmates thought he was too hot, with one pouring water on him after Riley lay on the floor in the common area, then moving in and out of his cell before that he finally goes to bed. The report says that was when prison medical staff were called and took him to their clinic and then to hospital.
A fire captain told detectives that Riley had no outward signs of trauma. The captain said he asked him if he had taken anything, “and the victim responded with 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” and then became unresponsive, according to the report.
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Meanwhile, investigators first spoke with Riley’s cellmate who said he “didn’t fall or fight or anything that could have hurt him,” explaining later that he didn’t want to cause her any trouble.
It was not until after his death that corrections staff learned that there had been a brief scuffle between Riley and the other inmate just before 5 p.m. on March 4.
Inmates interviewed said it started when the suspect sold Riley a lunch for $2, but he didn’t get paid until he had already eaten it. The taller man got angry, words were exchanged and he “rushed” the victim in his cell, according to some accounts.
Riley held the other man away from him before punching him and putting him in a headlock. Riley was “slammed”, which caused him to bang his head against the table or the floor, according to one of the inmates. “The suspect then stood over the victim and continued to hit him while he was on the ground.”
An inmate said Riley was pushed and hit his head against a stool. Another said he was punched in the face, “tripped over the stool, hit his head against the wall and fell to the floor”.
“You hit me first,” the suspect was heard saying as others broke up the fight. Two called him back bragging “That’s what you get for f—— with a Louisville slugger.” Documents show it only lasted from 4:57 p.m. to 4:59 p.m.
“After the fight, the deceased victim and the suspect continued their activities in the prison,” the report said.
But the victim later complained of feeling unwell, hot and having a headache before “passing out and falling” before receiving medical attention.
A strange omission
None of the reports provided indicate whether the suspect was interviewed by detectives after Riley’s death.
Jail records show he was released on March 8, four days after the incident, for time served during an arrest on February 16 for failure to appear on a domestic battery charge.
The sheriff’s office did not respond if detectives spoke to him as part of the investigation after the death.
Both men have a long criminal past. The latter has 16 prior arrests in Jacksonville, mostly for minor offenses, according to prison records.
Riley only had Jacksonville for four counts of armed robbery. Court records show he pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing on September 26.
His Florida Department of Corrections file shows he was released from prison on August 16 after serving a four-year sentence on an assault and battery charge against a law enforcement officer in Union County.
Those same records show this is the latest of several overlapping convictions for assault and aggravated assault that began with a conviction for robbery with home invasion in June 2012.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Justifiable homicide ruled in brutal death of Jacksonville inmate