TALLAHASSEE — Declaring himself “outraged,” Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews announced Wednesday he will travel to Miami to accelerate the investigation into the death of inmate Darren Rainey, who was locked in a scalding-hot shower by guards at the Dade Correctional Institution.
Crews, ending two months of silence amid a string of news reports in the Miami Herald, said firings are to be expected. The previously undisclosed death of Rainey, who was serving two years for a drug conviction at the institution south of Homestead, was detailed in a series of articles about Rainey and other inmates whose lives were lost in suspicious incidents.
In a statement released by the department, Crews also said he will travel to prisons across the state to “assess operations, meet with leaders and officers and take action on activities that run counter to the Department’s mission of maintaining a secure environment for officers and the inmates the Department houses.”
Crews, the third DOC secretary under Gov. Rick Scott, said he will personally do what he can to assist Miami-Dade homicide detectives investigating the death of Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate found dead June 23, 2012.
The Herald detailed how Rainey was forced into the small, locked shower by guards, who placed him there allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell, for nearly two hours. Fellow inmates said he screamed for mercy but guards taunted him — asking if it was “hot enough?” — and left him until he collapsed and died.
At least three fellow inmates filed various complaints to the department about the circumstances of Rainey’s death, but their complaints were disregarded. The DOC suspended its internal investigation two summers ago.
Police did not interview witnesses until May this year, as the Herald was preparing to publish an article about what had occurred and the inmates’ unsuccessful efforts to have corrections officers held accountable. The autopsy has not been released, and Rainey’s family still has not been told the cause of his death.
Crews’ comments came a day after the Herald reported a predecessor, former DOC Secretary James McDonough, had dispatched an email criticizing the department’s inaction. McDonough said the reports in the Herald, if true, “smack of torture, sadism, murder, coverup and ignoring the facts.”
McDonough said he was “revolted ... by the lack of sense of outrage by Department officials, and other officials.” Crews’ statement also followed a whistleblower complaint filed this week by four DOC investigators regarding another suspicious death behind bars. Randall Jordan-Aparo was gassed repeatedly by corrections officers at the Panhandle’s Franklin Correctional Institution after complaining about a worsening medical condition and pleading to be taking to a hospital, records show. No one has been charged in the September 2010 death.
The whistleblowers, who revisited the Jordan-Aparo case after being dispatched to Franklin to investigate other “garden variety” allegations of staff malfeasance, asserted the prison medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events leading to the inmate’s death.
The investigators complained to DOC officials and to Gov. Scott’s inspector general, Melinda Miguel, but when nothing was done about what they deemed a coverup, they filed the federal whistleblower lawsuit, naming the governor’s office, Miguel and the DOC as defendants. The lawsuit says the investigators have been retaliated against for alleging wrongdoing.
Hours before Crews issued his statement, the Herald reported three more inmate deaths had occurred in Florida prisons over the Fourth of July weekend, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had opened investigations into each one.
Authorities would not release any information about the new deaths, except to provide the inmates’ names and ages — Dan Myers, 42; Craig Coburn, 35; and Dennis Alvarado, 32 — and to say two of them died at Hamilton Correctional Institution east of Tallahassee, and the third at Columbia Correctional near Lake City.
The Herald also reported the FBI is looking into conditions at Suwannee Correctional Institution, site of an October riot by inmates who attacked five prison guards. In April, inmate Shawn Gooden, 33, died under mysterious circumstances at Suwannee, and his death is also under investigation by the FDLE.
Inmates there have long complained of violence, abuse and corruption at the prison in Live Oak west of Lake City. The department’s handling of the allegations also has drawn the attention of several legislators who sit on committees that oversee the department.
“I’m deeply concerned and troubled by what I’ve read recently in news accounts about what has been happening at some of our facilities around the state,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. “Prisoner abuse is entirely unacceptable, and it’s the Senate’s complete expectation that investigations move forward as quickly as possible and that anybody that has done anything wrong be identified and brought to justice.”
State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said the agency has a history of “generational challenges,” but he would wait for Crews to complete his investigations before deciding how to proceed.
“If there’s a problem, let’s fix it,” he said. “First we have to determine where the problem lies and who is at fault.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, have asked the federal government to investigate alleged excessive use of force and the treatment of mentally ill prisoners at Florida prisons.
In his statement Wednesday, Crews acknowledged the “integrity and trust of my department is at question, and we must do more to ensure facilities are safe.” He said the department is “fully prepared to move forward with terminations of anyone involved in the June 2012 death.”