Inmate dies after fighting with deputies in Polk County jail, sheriff’s office says

Eric Nelson, 46, died Friday

Eric Nelson, 46; Explicit language in a tattoo on Nelson's forehead has been blurred in post. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – A 46-year-old man who had been arrested on drugs charges and taken to a jail in Polk County died Friday after physically lashing out at deputies who eventually restrained him, according to a news release.

Eric Nelson was arrested by Lakeland officers acting on reports of a possible burglary suspect on U.S. Highway 98, taken into custody outside of a Starbucks when police found syringes in his backpack, as well as a bag that tested positive for methamphetamine, the release states. Once at the Sheriff’s Processing Center, an aggravated Nelson allegedly complained that he “hadn’t slept in days,” repeatedly kicking the door to the private cell he was placed in.

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Nelson was then taken to the South County Jail in Frostproof, arriving before noon and being escorted to a medical dorm, according to the release. Medical staff back at the process center had determined that Nelson should be placed on suicide watch in the dorm, citing his behavior, the release stated.

Detention deputies told Nelson to remove his clothing and put on a smock, at which point the 46-year-old allegedly threw his shirt on the ground and struck a deputy twice in the face.

Nelson fought with at least three deputies as attempts were made to put him back in handcuffs, the release describes. Deputies used a type of spray to gain control of Nelson, but the release notes it “had no effect,” going on to claim it was “abundantly evident to the deputies that (Nelson) exhibited strength greater than a normal person.”

Nelson eventually had shackles on his legs and handcuffs on both wrists, carried by four deputies “as he continued to fight,” brought to a cell where he was placed on the floor, the release states. Once Nelson’s restraints were off, deputies observed he was no longer breathing and that his face was changing color; staff began life-saving efforts on Nelson before he was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, according to the release.

Four investigations have since begun looking into Nelson’s death, according to the sheriff’s office, including that of the Polk County Medical Examiner currently working to determine the cause. Otherwise, an independent investigation is being conducted by the 10th Judicial Circuit Officer Involved Deadly Incident Task Force, an internal investigation is processing by the sheriff’s office’s Administrative Investigations Unit and the State Attorney’s Office is expected to evaluate the deputies’ use of force.

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Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.