MIAMI -- Four investigators with the Department of Corrections have accused the state of Florida of running a prison system rife with corruption, brutality and officially sanctioned gang violence — and of retaliating against them when they tried to expose what was going on.
The four filed a federal whistle-blower complaint on Monday alleging that state prisoners were beaten and tortured, that guards smuggled in drugs and other contraband in exchange for money and sexual favors, and that guards used gang enforcers to control the prison population. They claim those actions were either tacitly approved or covered up.
For weeks, the Miami Herald has reported on claims of abusive treatment by corrections officers, as related by inmates, nurses and a psychotherapist, primarily at Dade Correctional Institute, where an inmate was herded into a scorching hot shower and left until he collapsed and died. Now claims of abuse are coming from DOC investigators, the persons charged with rooting out such abuses.
“We have zero tolerance for unethical behavior, and take any allegations of abuse seriously,” said Melinda Miguel, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general. “An investigation into these allegations is currently active, and upon the conclusion of the investigation information will be made publicly available.”
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In the complaint and accompanying documents, veteran investigator Aubrey P. Land described the death of a 27-year-old inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, who was found lifeless — a Bible next to his head, his body coated with yellow chemical gas — at Franklin Correctional Institution in September 2010.
According to Land, Jordan-Aparo, serving an 18-month term for credit card fraud and drug charges, was placed in solitary confinement and gassed multiple times by guards after he had begged to be taken to the hospital for a worsening medical condition. Land, who said he stumbled on the death of Jordan-Aparo while investigating other “garden-variety” corruption and abuses at Franklin, said the prison’s medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors later conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events leading to the inmate’s death.
Jessica Cary, a spokeswoman for the DOC, said the agency had not yet seen the lawsuit so it could not comment.
To date, no one has been criminally charged or held administratively responsible in the death of Jordan-Aparo.
“I’ve done this for 30 years. My skin don’t crawl very often,’’ Land told Miguel in a taped interview in March.
“They killed that damn kid [Jordan-Aparo]. He laid there for five days begging for help.’’
In their lawsuit, Land and fellow investigators John Ulm and Doug Glisson concluded that the DOC’s 2010 Jordan-Aparo death investigation “was either intentionally misleading or the Department of Corrections’ investigators at the scene in 2010 had been grossly negligent.’’
The case is one of several DOC inmate deaths that remain under investigation. The fourth plaintiff, David Clark, was not involved in the Jordan-Aparo case, but investigated others.
In May, the Miami Herald reported on the death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional placed in an excruciatingly hot shower, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell. As with Jordan-Aparo, Rainey, 50, is said to have begged for help before he died. A fellow inmate said guards who placed him in the closet-like chamber taunted him by asking: “Is the shower hot enough?’’
After two years, Miami-Dade police have yet to complete their probe, and Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Bruce Hyma has not released the cause of death. The Department of Corrections suspended its investigation but says it has reopened the matter, at least to look at how showers are used in the prison system.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, as well as church and human rights groups, have asked for a U.S. Justice Department probe into the Rainey case.
Dade Correctional inmate Harold Hempstead, a burglar serving more than 100 years, repeatedly wrote letters to the office of DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley providing details about the death of Rainey, who was serving a two-year term for drug possession, and the alleged scalding of other inmates. Convicted killer Mark Joiner also wrote a letter, saying he helped clean up the “crime scene’’ and was ordered to discard evidence.
In an interview with the Herald, Joiner said he placed pieces of Rainey’s skin that had peeled off his body into a shoe. A guard told him to throw the shoe away, he said. Neither Hempstead nor Joiner was interviewed by police or the DOC until the Herald began writing about Rainey’s death.
Land told Miguel he learned about Jordan-Aparo’s death when he was sent to Franklin in early 2013 as part of a state law enforcement task force probing an assortment of problems.
“We got inmates down there that are getting their throats slashed on a regular basis,’’ Land said, according to a transcript of the Miguel interview filed with the lawsuit. “Their faces slashed, beat down with locks and socks; tremendous amount of contraband allegations that staff is ordering this and bringing in contraband and being paid and everybody we’re talking to is saying, ‘You know they killed that kid.’ ”
“So finally, I had heard enough. And I said, go back and start looking at all the deaths. Nobody would give me a name. And I find Randall Jordan-Aparo and immediately bells and whistles start going off. This thing ain’t pretty.’’
In an interview with the Herald, Jordan-Aparo’s father, Thomas Aparo, said prison officials and the Franklin County medical examiner told him that his son had died of an “infection’’ that, he said, they likened to a cold.
In reality, the 27-year-old suffered from a rare blood disorder that was noted in his prison medical file, according to records obtained by the Herald. He had been ill for weeks prior to his death, begging for medical attention as he increasingly grew weaker.
When he could barely breathe, walk or talk, he demanded that the prison’s nurses take him to the hospital. They allegedly refused, even after consulting by phone with doctors and other medical staff.
Jordan-Aparo became angry, and cursed the nurses, threatening “to sue their asses’’ if they didn’t get him to the hospital, records show.
The nurses called the guards, claiming Jordan-Aparo was being “rude.” The guards placed him in a steel-walled solitary-confinement cell.
“The next day, the captain comes down there and gasses him, and gasses him and gasses him,’’ Land told Miguel.
He was sprayed so much that photographs show the outline of his body surrounded by mustard-colored gas all over the cell walls.
The prison’s supervisors and guards fabricated reports saying that their use of chemical agents was justified because Jordan-Aparo was “causing a disturbance.’’ Land, who said he viewed video footage of the inmate’s last hours, said the inmate was too sick to cause a disturbance and that all he wanted was to go to the hospital.
Land said Beasley had interfered with an earlier probe of his involving a corrections officer whose brother worked under the DOC inspector general. Land told Miguel that Beasley had cited “professional courtesy’’ as cause not to pursue a case against the officer, who was accused of accepting bribes and sexual favors in exchange for giving a woman access to a prisoner with whom she was having a romantic relationship.
Land said he refused to go along.
“I’m not going to be bullied over this,’’ Land told Miguel. “And I’m going to tell the Jordan-Aparo story.’’
He further told Miguel that by October 2013, with the Jordan-Aparo probe complete, he and fellow investigators Ulm and Glisson found themselves the subject of internal affairs complaints, which they believe were filed in retaliation for pursuing the Jordan-Aparo case.
The investigators say DOC Secretary Michael Crews told them that if they wanted whistle-blower status — a form of protection from administrative sanctions — they should take their concerns to Miguel.
Land said he was referred by Miguel to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which investigates discrimination and sexual harassment as well as whistle-blower-type complaints.
The FDLE confirmed that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General are investigating Jordan-Aparo’s death.