by Ed Krayewski
Reason.com Full Feed / 2017-03-18 10:51
Florida Dept of CorrectionsDarren Rainey spent two hours locked in a shower inmates at the Dade Correctional Institute said prison guards left set to scalding hot before dying of the injuries caused by the water. Rainey’s skin was peeling off when he was removed from the shower. Inmates say he was screaming to be let out before he died, and that guards regularly used extremely hot and cold showers to punish mentally ill patients. Nearly five years later, in a report released Friday, the state’s attorney has ruled that there was no criminal conduct by the guards.
In her ruling, Katherine Fernandez Rundle said, according to the Miami Herald, that John Fan Fan, a sergeant, and the officers involved in getting Rainey into the shower, Ronald Clarke, Cornelius Thompson, and Edwina Williams, didn’t act with premeditation, malice, recklessness, ill-will, hatred or evil intent. The officers involved were eventually promoted after the incident.
The state attorney claimed testimony from inmates was inconsistent with testimony from prison staff as well as physical evidence, and that she could not find evidence Rainey was burned to death. His family says they were pressured to cremate his body, the fact that Rainey’s skin fell off on contact after his death is undisputed, and the nurse who tried to take his temperature after he died said it was too high to register on the thermometer. A prison officer tested the shower a couple of days after Rainey’s death, finding it went as high as 160 degrees, but no investigators checked the shower the day of Rainey’s death.
Only two prison officers, the nurse, and a paramedic were interviewed by police immediately after the incident—other witnesses, including inmates, were not interviewed until 2014. That investigation, the Herald notes, only started when the newspaper began "raising questions about the case as part of what would become a three-year probe into corruption in Florida prisons."
Harold Hempstead, an inmate who acted as an orderly at the mental ward, was reportedly the first person to question the incident. According to the Herald, he wrote letters and filed complaints "with police, the medical examiner and the state attorney about Rainey’s death as well as other alleged abuses" in the transitional care unit, where Rainey died. Hempstead was recently transferred to a prison in another state, the Herald reported, making it impossible for them or other newspapers to interview him in the wake of the investigation report.
In mid-2012, another inmate committed suicide at the prison, leaving a note about the abuses he said he suffered while there. His death was not part of the Rainey investigation. The Herald also notes inconsistencies in the investigative report about abuse—at one point the report says just one other inmate said he had been thrown into an extremely hot shower, but at another it reports on two other inmates who said the same thing.
After the paper’s work exposing abuses at the Dade Correctional Institute, the Herald reports that the "warden and assistant warden were forced out, and, later, then-Secretary [of Corrections] Michael Crews stepped down amid political pressure." The inspector-general of the prison system also eventually left—he had been accused by his investigators, according to the Herald, of hampering investigations.
Correction Secretary Julie Jones told the Herald she was appreciative of work by police and the state attorney, which exonerated the officers, and said she was still committed to reforms. "We will continue to integrate services which ensure these inmates successfully re-enter society," she told the Herald, "and lead crime-free lives upon release."