The cover-up of the death of mentally ill inmate Darren Rainey began immediately after Rainey’s body was found in a puddle of scalding water at the Dade Correctional Institution two years ago, emails show.
That night, and into the next morning, the prison’s administrators, corrections officers and medical staff told widely conflicting stories about what led to Rainey’s death. At one point, they even claimed that Rainey himself had turned up the water temperature, essentially scalding himself to death, according to emails obtained by the Miami Herald.
The chaos following Rainey’s death — played out in written messages to top state corrections officials during the week after his death — were made public Monday as state lawmakers Dwight Bullard and Cynthia Stafford continued to pressure the Department of Corrections and law enforcement to answer questions about suspicious inmate deaths, like Rainey’s, around the state.
Also on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott gave his first comment on the issue, saying that the Miami-Dade Police Department’s investigation into Rainey’s death had “taken a long time.” The governor, however, sidestepped questions about why the two guards accused of killing Rainey were allowed to continue to work at the prison after Rainey’s death.
Rainey, 50, was serving a two-year sentence for drug possession. He suffered from severe mental illness and was housed in DCI’s psych unit. Prison officials admit that he was forced into the shower the night of June 23, 2012, and left in the small stall for almost two hours.
While guards who placed him there claimed he was checked “periodically,” other inmates have said the guards turned up the temperature as far as they could, and corrections officers allegedly taunted Rainey and walked away as he screamed in pain. He finally collapsed and died, his skin so scalded that chunks of his flesh had fallen off his body. Afterward, one inmate claimed he was ordered to clean up the site.
Other inmates, as well as sources inside the prison, have told the Herald that the particular shower that Rainey was in was specially rigged so that the guards could use it as a form of punishment. In Rainey’s case, two guards allegedly forced him into it because he had defecated in his cell.
The investigation into Rainey’s death, however, languished for almost two years until the Herald began asking questions about it in May. Prior to that time, neither Miami-Dade police nor DOC investigators interviewed witnesses who claimed they had evidence that Rainey was killed by the guards.
On Monday, Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Nancy Perez said the police probe was “nearing its final stages.”
On Thursday, DOC Secretary Michael Crews fired the warden, Jerry Cummings, and announced that the two corrections officers involved in Rainey’s death had resigned. Cornelius Thompson left earlier this year to take a job with the federal prison system; and Roland Clarke resigned July 3.
In response to a public-records request, the DOC on Monday released Cummings’ emails from the days and weeks after the death. They show that Cummings was called to the scene the night Rainey died, and that top DOC brass, including Tim Cannon, now the department’s deputy secretary, had been briefed.
The emails, some of them redacted, provide little detail, however, about what actually happened. It is not clear why there are no emails from Cummings to any of his command staff asking questions, nor are there any emails from Cummings to his bosses concerning Rainey.
But it is clear that Cummings was worried about how his staff members worded their reports and emails. At one point, he appears to take staffers to task for jumping to conclusions.
“This is not necessarily true; we do not know what the cause of death is for me/M [sic] Rainey. I think we should wait until an autopsy report is completed before such information is published,” he wrote the following Monday to staffers.
Dena Tate, the prison’s senior health administrator replied: “I agree! Staff will be informed to watch the verbiage when reporting incidents without final reports and/or investigations.”
To date, Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Bruce Hyma has not released the autopsy report or told Rainey’s family how he died. He has said he is waiting for police to finish their probe.
However, the emails are more telling for what they don’t say than for what they do say, according to former DOC Secretary James McDonough.
“The email thread shows great concern with the verbiage used in speaking about the death and matters related to it,” he said. “The emails show little concern with the substance of the investigation.’’
He found it particularly incredible that the prison staff said Rainey turned the hot water on himself.
“The report, seemingly unchallenged, that the inmate scalded himself to death begs incredulity and serves as a prime example of the tilt of the so-called investigation,” he said.
On Monday, Bullard also expressed outrage over the 2010 death of Randall Jordan-Aparo, who was gassed by guards at the Franklin Correctional Institution. His death was covered up until 2013, when three state corrections investigators learned that prison officials had lied in their reports. Three officers at the prison were suspended and remain on leave pending the outcome of a federal probe.
Jordan-Aparo, 27, was already critically ill, suffering from a documented blood disorder, when corrections officers threw him into solitary confinement and repeatedly gassed him as he begged for medical attention. His entire body and large portions of his cell were yellow from the gas when he was found dead with a Bible beside him.
“I have made it clear that there is zero tolerance for corruption or abuse at the Department of Corrections, and we will root out any and all bad actors who do not live up to our expectations,” Crews said Monday.
Four of Crews’ investigators — including the three who uncovered the truth about Jordan-Aparo’s death — filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the department two weeks ago. They claim that their boss, DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, retaliated against them when they tried to prosecute those responsible for Jordan-Aparo’s death.
The state lawmakers, at a press conference, said DOC needs to examine the way it treats both mentally ill inmates and prisoners of color.
“The idea that the federal government has had to bring to light things that should have been caught years ago by this administration is problematic,” Bullard said.
Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report.