The Florida corrections sergeant suspected of threatening a female inmate who died last week at Lowell Correctional Institution is being questioned by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in connection with her death, the Miami Herald has learned.
The inmate, Latandra Ellington, turned up dead Oct. 1, just 10 days after writing a letter to her aunt that detailed how a Lowell corrections officer — she knew him only as “Sgt. Q’’ — had repeatedly threatened to beat and kill her.
The sergeant being questioned, union officials confirmed Wednesday, is Patrick Quercioli, and he has been placed on perimeter duty — a post that limits his contact with inmates — pending the outcome of the investigation.
He also has a criminal arrest record, according to FDLE.
Union sources said that Quercioli was on vacation and not on duty when Ellington died. It’s not clear when he went on leave and when he returned. Ellington also named another officer, whose last name she said was Thrasher, as working the C Dorm with Quercioli at the time she was threatened.
Florida’s Department of Corrections released an incident report on the death Wednesday, but nearly everything in the report is blacked out, including the names of most of the officers who were on duty when the 36-year-old inmate’s body was found.
Ellington, a mother of four, was to be released in seven months after serving a 22-month sentence for grand theft. She was in confinement — separated from the general population — at the time of her death because the agency, DOC officials said Tuesday, had taken her family’s concerns about the alleged threats “seriously.’’
Corrections officials have not told Ellington’s family anything about her death, which was discovered about 11:15 a.m. Oct. 1 at the state prison in Ocala.
Her family, suspecting foul play, hired an attorney and paid for a private autopsy. The family’s lawyer, civil rights attorney Daryl Parks, said at a news conference Tuesday that the autopsy showed she suffered blunt-force trauma to her stomach consistent with being punched or kicked.
Her death came less than 24 hours after her aunt called the prison, distraught upon receiving a letter from Ellington, dated Sept. 21, in which she said she had been threatened by the sergeant. She said he had a tattoo of an Indian and a name that no one seemed to be able to spell or pronounce.
“He was gone [sic] beat me to death and mess me like a dog,’’ Ellington wrote. “He was all in my face Sqt. Q then he grab his radio and said he was gone bust me in my head with it...’’
Quercioli did not return phone messages left by the Herald.
Before it was deactivated Wednesday, Querciola’s Facebook page showed he is a motorcycle enthusiast who sometimes wears an “Indian” headband, a reference to the once-popular line of motorcycles. One photo shows the chiseled sergeant, president of a fitness company on the side, flexing his biceps.
Querciola has been arrested twice, according to FDLE records, for fraud in 1986 and for possession of steroids in 1994. His arrests, however, were not reported to FDLE’s criminal justice standards and training commission, which keeps track of law enforcement misconduct. It could not be determined Wednesday if he was a corrections officer at the time of the incidents.
Although he has 22 use of force incidents in his file, it is not clear whether he has a disciplinary record. The Department of Corrections had not released his personnel file as of Wednesday. Nor did it respond to questions about whether he — or any other officers — had been suspended or placed on leave in connection with Ellington’s death.
Ellington’s aunt, Algerine Jennings, said in an interview with the Herald that she feared that her niece was being sexually abused or knew about the abuse of other inmates and had complained. Her niece had previously told her she had complained to some of the commanders at the prison and feared she would face retaliation. The department said Wednesday it had no record of any complaints or grievances filed by Ellington.
Jennings said her niece was too afraid to tell her why the sergeant was terrorizing her.
“She just said she couldn’t fight them. He told her ‘Do not underestimate my power.’ ’’
Parks, whose firm represented the Trayvon Martin family, has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the death, which is the third in-custody death at Lowell this year.
Two other Lowell deaths, Affricka Jean, who died in April, and Regina Cooper, who died in August, are also under FDLE review.
The six-page DOC inspector general incident report indicates that Ellington’s body was found at 11:15 a.m., and that both the Department of Corrections’ inspector general’s office and FDLE was notified. The medical examiner arrived at 2:30 p.m.
The report was signed by the prison’s warden, Gustavo Mazorra. Mazorra, a Miami native, made news when he became entangled in a love affair with a subordinate, a corrections officer at Marion Correctional Institution. The female officer committed suicide by taking an overdose of antidepressants, according to a 2010 report in the Tampa Bay Times, published about the time Mazorra became warden at Zephyrhills Correctional. He later went to the women’s prison at Lowell.
An assistant warden and at the time of the 2005 fling, the married Mazorra was never disciplined for the inappropriate relationship, and his personnel file made no mention of it, the Times said.
The Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Mazorra Wednesday.