George C. Mallinckrodt
Newspaper Articles

Since May 18, 2014, the Miami Herald has published well over 100 articles and op-ed pieces detailing the Florida prison brutality and cover-up scandal.

The education of Julie Jones, Florida's prisons chief


MARCH 18, 2016

The officers descended on Franklin Correctional Institution on Jan. 3, 2016, in riot gear, armed with 12-gauge shotguns, "non-lethal" grenades and chemical agents. They launched the grenades, which propelled rubber balls at the agitated prisoners, then fired at least one shot, a rubber bullet, at inmate Frenel Romain, who had been sitting on a rail, waving his arms, daring officers to shoot him.

Other inmates were jumping around, inciting violence against the guards that spiraled in the midst of a gang war that had been escalating for days, incident logs show.

The disturbance was the most violent crisis in a Florida state prison since Secretary Julie Jones took control of the agency almost a year to the day earlier.

There were one or two officers and more than 100 inmates outside the chow hall that morning when the conflict broke out. Like most prisons in Florida, Franklin is dangerously understaffed. That same week, records show, 38 security breaches were logged in Florida prisons, ranging from missing keys and broken perimeter fences to inmate counts where prisoners couldn't be found and officers and inmates who were attacked and injured.

During the past year, Jones has faced some of the toughest challenges of her 31 years in state government. She has been interrogated by state lawmakers, dressed down by veteran corrections officers and overwhelmed by complaints, grievances and lawsuits filed by the families of inmates who allege that prisoners have been beaten, medically neglected and mentally and sexually abused.

"There are a lot of situations, day to day, that are scary,'' said Jones, in her most comprehensive interview with the Miami Herald since she was coaxed by Gov. Rick Scott to come out of retirement to try to right the agency's sinking ship.

"I walk into dorms every day that have 142 inmates and one officer. That officer goes by his wits and training . but we scramble people,'' she said.

She has also seen those prison surveillance videos - the ones that the public can't see - where inmates have been knocked down, kicked and beaten by officers with no obvious justification.

"The inmate goes down to the ground and you can tell the officers thought they could do that, and obviously they did do it," Jones said. "Who let those officers know or gave them the impression that that was acceptable behavior?"

She believes that the agency is now on the right path. Since she took the $160,000-a-year position, she has overhauled most of her top staff and has fired or forced 1,080 people to resign, 279 more than the year before. Those who remain have been put on notice that she will not tolerate the kind of abuse that has been part of the prisons' culture for decades.

She attributes some of the tensions to overworked and under-trained staff. There are not enough officers and the ones she does have put in 12-hour shifts and - on top of that - up to four hours a day in overtime to cover the agency's 49 prisons.

While an independent  audit  commissioned by the Legislature last year concluded that staffing is at a crisis level, Jones stops short of characterizing the system as ready to explode.

She is fighting to return officers to eight-hour shifts, a move she says will not only save money, (the agency spent in excess of $36 million a year in overtime in 2014, and some can make as much as $20,000 a year in overtime along, she says), but make prisons more secure.

"Imagine being out there, working to be mentally sharp, on your toes for 16 hours,'' says Jones, a certified law enforcement officer who has visited most of the state's prisons and has seen officers' lack of experience and how thinly staffed the prisons are.

Jones, 58, is committed until the end of Scott's term in 2018.

She began her tenure on the defensive.

Standing before a Senate committee last year, she blamed "a perception problem" for the criticism that the agency faced over excessive use of force, failed staff discipline, the introduction of contraband by corrections officers and a culture of cover-ups. But armed with a year of insight and policy initiatives - and three independent audits - her approach has evolved.

This year, during a weekend of budget negotiations, Jones spelled out in stark terms the long-term cost of Florida's past decision to try to save money by cutting 700 corrections officers during the recession. "Violent incidents have increased,'' she said. "Sick leave hours taken by officers have climbed by more than 900 hours a year," and "contraband recovery has hit record highs."

Jones asked for authorization for 738 additional officers. The Legislature funded 215, but she received some kudos for her pushback.

"Her refreshing candor is why she's earned an incredible reservoir of credibility with many of us,'' said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, former head of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the corrections budget.

Jones says the reforms she has put in place over the past year have led to management and policy changes aimed at holding her 24,000 employees more accountable.



She has instituted new use-of-force policies, created better systems for tracking problem officers and now requires all inmate grievances to be sent to a central location rather than letting the prison where the purported offense happened keep matters in house. She is renegotiating the inmate healthcare contract, installing cameras in all prison dorms, and has authorized a pilot program to put body cameras on some corrections officers.

She even revamped the agency's logo, re-branding it "FDC'' in an effort to show that the prison system is not the same old DOC.

Some have criticized the rebranding when she faces larger challenges. But Jones believes the change lifted morale at an agency that has felt starved and ignored after years of budget cuts. Officers have not had raises in nearly a decade, and they work under difficult conditions. She believes those conditions contributed to some of the tensions that led to inmate abuses.

"I tell people every day: If you want resources, I can't go to the Legislature with the perception being that we are jack-booted thugs beating people up.''

She has also hired thousands of new officers, but she has lost many as well to better-quality, better-paying jobs. Corrections officers earn an average of $32,000 a year.

"I think Julie Jones is trying her best with what she has,'' said Ron McAndrew, a former Department of Corrections warden who now works as a private prison consultant.

"She has responded to one crisis after another, and she's had her fair share in one year. But she is trying to change a tire with a screwdriver, that's what it boils down to.''

McAndrew, who works for lawyers representing inmates, visits prisons every week. He said some prisons seem under control while others remain troubled, under the thumb of officers and wardens who have grown accustomed to a "good ol' boy'' culture where abuse of inmates is condoned.

"There are certain areas where she has a nest of snakes and it's difficult to get those nests under control,'' he said.

Among the toughest prisons is Santa Rosa , in Florida 's Panhandle. The incident reports from the first week of January alone showed the highest number of sexual assaults, security breaches and batteries occurred at Santa Rosa. On Jan. 5, an officer was slashed by an inmate and had to be hospitalized.

Fourth boss in five years

During a recent tour of Wakulla Correctional, a prison just south of Tallahassee , Jones' entourage preceded her through the gate. Like everyone else, she is searched and forced to clear a metal detector. The warden is noticeably nervous as Jones walks into his office.

Jones is the fourth secretary in five years, and the first woman to head the agency, which is the state's largest, with a $2.4 billion budget. She may be the only woman in a men's club, but she marches into a prison compound like a general; the officers and inmates often stand at attention, even though she always tells them to go about doing what they were doing.

"If you walk prisons in the summertime with no air conditioning, you're in the trenches,'' Jones said. "I have not limited where I go based on anything. You have an officer in a dorm with 142 people, then I'm with them; if I expect them to be in there, then I will be in there.''

She showed up unexpectedly last June at Desoto Correctional Institution. Emotions were raw among the inmates, who had threatened a riot just days earlier. She also rattled the nerves of her staff by heading out to the yard, where 500 inmates were being supervised by four officers.

Her deputy secretary, Ricky Dixon, said that by then, he wasn't surprised, though he recalls he gently reminded her that there had been a disturbance a few days earlier and threats had been made against officers. The prison was in lockdown for three days and this day was the inmates' first opportunity since then to be outdoors.

"She was wearing her tennis shoes, and when she wears those shoes, we know we are going to have a long day,'' Dixon said.

Jones walked out by the field where inmates were playing softball. She talked to them about their uniforms, many of which were tattered, and their equipment, which really was no equipment at all. For years, a Legislative trust fund for inmates provided funds for recreational equipment, but it was lost in budget cuts, so many prisons lack things like soccer balls, softballs and basketball nets.

So are educational, life-skills, vocational programs, which have been decimated by years of cutbacks by Florida lawmakers. Jones hasn't asked for more funding for programs to help inmates re-enter society. Instead, she is combing her current budget to evaluate how to better spend dollars the department has.

"Every single contract and program is under evaluation now,'' she said.

Biologist roots

When Jones was growing up in Pompano Beach, she didn't dream of becoming a prisons boss. She wanted to work in marine and wildlife protection.

After graduating with a degree in biology from Florida Atlantic University, she began her career as a state biologist before becoming a fish and game officer. She spent three decades as a state law enforcement officer, rising to colonel, before transitioning to the department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles as executive director.

But she had no experience running a prison system, let alone one as vast and broken as Florida's.

When Scott coaxed her out of retirement in late 2014 and asked that she rescue a prison system marred by reports of abuse, corruption and suspicious inmate deaths, she admits she didn't know much more than the average citizen about prisons.

"I knew what the average person on the street knew, which was 'out of sight, out of mind.' Yes, we have prisons and it's for bad people and I don't know what happens behind those fences. And it's been very eye opening.''

She was forced to learn pretty quickly. The Herald and other news media were turning out stories about horrible inmate deaths, and agency inspectors were alleging - in sworn testimony - that their efforts to investigate suspicious deaths and abuses had been thwarted by higher-ups in the agency.

Deaths were up again last year to a new high of 354 inmates, although that is at least partly a reflection of the aging prison population. Still, 34 of those who died were 40 or under. It's not clear whether there is a pattern to the deaths since about half of them are still under investigation.

Early on, she rejected efforts to force out the department's chief law enforcement officer, Jeffery Beasley, under whose watch some of the most egregious brutality seemed to flourish. She defended him before legislative committees, whose members questioned the agency's ability to police itself. Only last fall was he reassigned to another position in the agency.

Jones admits that there are some things she would have done differently had she known then what she now knows.

"There were probably a couple of people I trusted a little too much and in hindsight, I would have acted a little bit quicker,'' she said.

After more than a year in charge of the nation's third-largest prison system, Jones has accomplished what few others had before her: getting more money and more staff for a system that had been hollowed out by budget cuts.

Public safety advocates insist there are bigger challenges, however.

"We just can't keep spending money on a sinking ship,'' said Deborrah Brodsky, director of Project Accountable Justice, a think tank on public safety at Florida State University. "We have had no investment strategy bigger than the immediate cost of the department.''

There needs to be a plan that focuses on strategic outcomes, such as reducing crime and recidivism, Brodsky said.

Jones says she is aware that the agency needs a long-term strategy and she is building one. She also knows she has a lot to prove to the families of the nearly 100,000 inmates in her care.

"My pledge to families is we are moving the needle and we're going to the best of our ability create an environment where inmates are supervised," she said. "It is a prison and there needs to be discipline but it also has to be an environment for them to survive and get back into the community and be productive.''




By Kyle Munzenrieder

Friday, March 11, 2016

Twelve thousand people - about one in eight inmates - are being held in solitary confinement in Florida state prisons, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, faith leaders, and advocates for the mentally ill, is now calling on the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to investigate the matter.

"Just as our country now realizes that we are incarcerating too many people, we must also recognize that we have too many people in solitary confinement," Steven Wetstein of the Miami Chapter of Amnesty International USA said in a statement. "This causes needless suffering and leaves them less able to be responsible citizens when they leave prison. Public security, fiscal responsibility, and our common humanity will all be strengthened by using solitary confinement less."

The group says that as of September 2015, Florida Department of Corrections prisons held 87,111 inmates, of which 12,002, or 13.8 percent, were being held in restrained housing units. An additional 12,477 inmates were being held in private prisons, of which 434 were being held in solitary.

Restrained housing is defined as solitary housing in which an inmate is held for 22 hours a day and remains there for at least 15 continuous days.

The data also states that black inmates are more likely to be held in solitary than white inmates.

The ethnic breakdown of male prisoners in the general population is 46 percent white, 49 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic. In solitary confinement, that breakdown is 37 percent white,  59 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic. 

Though black women make up only 30 percent of the state's total female inmate population, they make up 50 percent of women being held in solitary.

Prisoners with serious mental illnesses are also much more likely to be sent to solitary. About one-fourth of such prisoners is currently in solitary.

These numbers are only for state prisoners and don't include prisoners being held in federal or municipal prisons and jails in Florida.

"We strongly urge the Department to investigate why one in eight Florida prisoners are being held in confinement," reads the groups' letter to Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division.

President Obama recently called for an end to solitary confinement in federal juvenile prisons, and several states use no form of solitary in their prisons.

The letter was signed by the following:

Randall Berg, Executive Director, Florida Justice Institute; Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches; Adora Obi Nweze, President, Florida State Conference of the NAACP; George Mallinckrodt, Stop Prison Abuse Now (SPAN); Marc Dubin, Esq., Director, ADA Expertise Consulting, LLC; Robin Cole, President, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Miami; Christopher Jones, Director Florida Institutional Legal Services; Amy McClellan, Board of Directors The Key Clubhouse of Miami; Sevell C. Brown III, National Director, National Christian League of Councils; and Paul Wright Director, Human Rights Defense Center, and editor, Prison Legal News.


Miami legislator's quiet quest to demand prison fixes gets results

Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Sunday, February 28, 2016 6:00am

TALLAHASSEE - Standing in the center of a barren prison courtyard at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell two weeks ago, encircled by towering razor wire and brick buildings, Rep. David Richardson was on a mission.

His legislative week hadn't begun yet, so he had arrived for an unannounced visit to the youthful offender wing of the massive prison compound. Since August, the retired forensic auditor had learned that if he wanted to understand how inmates were treated in the state's troubled corrections system, he had to find a place to conduct one-on-one interviews with offenders.

His conclusion: Find a very public space within the prison confines, out of earshot of corrections officers or prison staff, away from any recording equipment "and never ask what sent them to prison, unless it's going to be your last question."

Over the last six months, Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who had never set foot in a prison, has quietly met with more than 120 inmates during more than 30 visits to 23 different corrections facilities in his quest to determine how to fix the ailing system.

Drawing on a 30-year career unraveling corporate corruption and financial malfeasance, and using a state law that allows legislators exclusive, and unannounced, access to any Florida prison, Richardson has attempted to find the truth behind the brutal "test of heart" hazing rituals used by prison gangs to extort money from young newcomers in return for protection.

He has learned how gangs at Lancaster Correctional Institution near Gainesville, often made up of members from the same regions of the state, would avoid corrections officers, create lookouts and decoys, and rely on poorly designed prison spaces to exploit blind spots and prey on their victims.

He uncovered what he considers "ground zero for officer-on-inmate violence" at Sumter Correctional Institution. He dug out details about how new arrivals were routinely "punched, or choked, or hit or slapped by an officer" as they arrived on the prison bus, validating reports that elements of the state's prison culture were failing to police their own.

And he heard stories of "staged fights" in which an officer calls two inmates "into the bathroom where there is no camera... punches them both and then writes a report saying they were fighting each other, claiming the officer had to stop it."

Armed with these conclusions - and many questions - Richardson dutifully reported his observations to Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones and made several recommendations. To Richardson's delight, Jones has not only listened, she used them to underscore changes she has also sought since she arrived a year ago as an industry outsider and the first woman to lead the agency.

"We've been very collegial and very open to everything he's had to suggest," Jones acknowledged last week, adding that Richardson was "very guarded" with his initial findings but soon developed an open rapport with her and her staff."I think he thought we would circle our wagons, close up shop and somehow push back - and we have not."

Jones responded to several of Richardson's initial requests - closing a Lancaster dorm in October when he reported that it was infested with mold, moving a bruised inmate who spoke with him at his request and opening investigations on allegedly abusive guards.

Closing Lancaster's youth wing

This month, she told him she had agreed to one of his top priorities: Jones will close the youthful offender wing of Lancaster Correctional Institution in June, and move the 662 inmates ages 18 to 24 to the privately run Lake City Correctional Institution, or Sumter.

"My goal is to make change," Richardson said. "I have seen a lot of improvement since I have been doing this work. I think the word is out that I'm going to be showing up, and I'm going to be interviewing inmates."

As Jones was "just poking around the edges the last eight or nine months," she said, Richardson has come in "no blinders on, eyes wide open, bull in a china shop."

The odd-couple partnership has resulted in a host of unheralded but important changes. Jones, 58, who left retirement to head up the troubled state agency for a Republican governor, not only directed her staff to impose no delay or barrier to Richardson's access to vulnerable programs within her agency, she also trusted his recommendations.

Richardson, 59, who was first elected to public office in 2012, never sought media attention or political gain as he quietly spent more than 300 hours (his calculation) inspecting, researching and reporting back his findings on the project to Jones, her staff, and his legislative colleagues. When he arrives unannounced at a prison, he gives FDC's legislative affairs director a warning phone call - from the parking lot.

"He didn't want the media to muck this up," said Rep. Kathleen Peters, a St. Petersburg Republican who was among a handful of legislators who accompanied Richardson on some of his prison visits. Peters has embarked on her own project to investigate the state's mental health hospitals and psychiatric facilities, and she went along with Richardson on about 12 prison visits to focus on mental health concerns.

"He's not politicizing it," Peters said. "He has worked to develop a relationship with the secretary, and he reports what he has found. What impresses me the most is how receptive and responsive she has been."

Miami Herald Report

After reading a Miami Herald story in September about the broomstick hazing of a 19-year-old inmate at Lancaster Correctional Institution, Richardson began to focus on the 3,724 inmates between the ages of 14 and 24 who are housed separately in dorms for youthful offenders.

According to a prison report on the Lancaster incident, Gesnerson Louisius was ambushed May 7, 2013, by other inmates in an isolated corner of an unlocked room far from the guard room. The beating lasted about 30 minutes, ending with him crouched on his knees "like a cat," one witness told investigators, as the inmates tugged at his pants and began pushing a broomstick into his rectum.

The vicious act ruptured Louisius' rectum and he underwent an emergency colostomy. His family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against FDC for condoning the ritualized beatings.

Richardson sought to learn more but also wanted to protect inmates from further harm. Rather than just go directly to the four prisons that house young inmates, he devised a strategy to tour other prisons to seek out offenders who had previously served at Lancaster and Sumter but were no longer there and would be more free to talk.

During the legislative committee weeks in Tallahassee last fall, Richardson would wedge in visits to North Florida prisons, often arranging an inspection in which he would ask staff to walk him to places he wanted to observe. Sometimes, he would ask for incident reports and data.

No Advance Warning

Each time, he would arrive with his legislative aide or another legislator to offer another set of ears to the inmate interviews. If neither are available, he will ask the department to send another official, not affiliated with the prison, to accompany him.

"I don't mind going to a facility alone, but I will never do an interview one-on-one," he said. "It was an evolution to figure out how to get information out of people."

His research confirmed the initiation rituals are worst at Lancaster where large rooms, far from the guard stations, are perfect hideaways to avoid scrutiny for the "test of heart" beatings.

"The guards only have to make their rounds every 30 minutes, and they know they have 15 minutes of time that they can get in these back rooms," Richardson told the Times/Herald. "They'll use a lookout in the center area so they will know if a guard leaves a station, and they can alert people to shut down whatever activity they are doing."

He confirmed broomstick beatings occurred at youthful offender dorms at Sumter Correctional. Now on every visit he asks staff to unlock the broom closet in the dorms, where he inspects the inventory list and makes sure all is intact.

Richardson has concluded that no amount of staffing or video surveillance will ever make Lancaster safe to youthful offenders.

"It has everything to do with the physical layout," Richardson said. The prison is incompatible, he said, because it's not only a very large campus with massive oak trees that serve as shields for inmate-on-inmate fistfights, it has 24 cottage-style inmate buildings, each arranged in a T-shape with long corridors and poor sight lines.

Richardson commends Jones for being willing to close Lancaster but he believes that Sumter Correctional has a similarly bad configuration - "a hellhole," he says - while the two other prisons that house the state's youthful offender population - Lake City and Lowell - have far fewer problems.

He reached that conclusion after hearing many inmates tell him they live in terror each night, sleeping in unlocked cells desperate to protect themselves from being cut or pummeled - usually by socks loaded with padlocks or bars of soap.

"In the dorm-style settings, they sleep with a towel wrapped around their face so they won't be cut," Richardson said, noting that it doesn't always succeed. "I've had so many of them show me the scars on their heads and faces from the cuts."

Reports of Abusive Guards

He has also chronicled injuries inflicted by prison staff. During a visit to Sumter on Dec. 4, Richardson and his aide talked with 11 inmates, all 14 to 17 years old.

"Almost all of them told me they had been punched, or choked or hit or slapped by an officer, and this would have been within the last six months," Richardson recalled. Most of the abuse was occurring while still on a bus or van "to send a message, 'We're in charge here,'" he said.

On a surprise visit to Sumter two weeks ago, Richardson and Peters talked to seven inmates, none of whom reported being choked, slapped or beaten, they said.

"It's very clear to me the officer-on-inmate violence has been reduced and that they know someone's going to be showing up and looking for bruises on someone's face and asking the tough questions," Richardson said.

Richardson's review has also led to a long list of recommendations. He asked Jones to implement a pilot program to install body cameras on officers to reduce the likelihood of officer-on-inmate violence. He supports Jones' call for hundreds of new hires to fill staff vacancies and end 12-hour shifts. He says the only locks that should be allowed are those that are attached to inmate lockers. And, if necessary, he believes the agency should stop issuing socks until they stop being used as weapons.

Jones has listened to all of Richardson's ideas, but she is not ready to close Sumter.

"I support what the representative is doing, and we don't always agree on everything," she said.

Instead, she has changed Sumter's wardens, fired some staff and is investigating others. She has promised to install 240 more cameras and has agreed to Richardson's request for a pilot program to put body cameras on all corrections officers in the youthful offender wing. But Richardson's call for housing all young inmates in two-person cells is unrealistic, she said. "We just don't have the money to do that."

Meanwhile, Richardson calls this the "first phase" of his prison investigation project.

"I'm taking names," Richardson says of officers he believes should be investigated. "I don't want them just fired. My goal is to have them arrested and prosecuted."

First Time Behind Bars

It's a long way from where Richardson began when he decided to tour the South Florida Reception Center in Doral on Aug. 6. He had never before stepped into a prison and he remembers, "I wore no neck tie." A psychiatrist friend had told him he had heard that wearing a tie might make him vulnerable to being yanked by an unruly felon.

Instead, Richardson said, the experience has been without incident and "very positive." One of his biggest surprises was learning the state houses more than 150 inmates ages 14-17 in adult prisons and, by law, must keep them separated, but the state has little to no strategy in place to keep them from returning to the prison system again.

"I ask them: 'Do you know how much it costs to keep you here?'" he said. When they shrug off the question he tells them at $25,000 a year the cost of housing a 20-year-old for the next 40 years is $1 million. "I tell them, 'If I could find 1,000 people like you and keep you from returning, that's $1 billion and 2,000 people like you is $2 billion."

Jones is working with the Department of Juvenile Justice to determine if it they can better assess the needs of the their youngest inmates and with the Department of Education to develop new programming. By the end of the year, she said she will have in place a pilot program to offer computer tablets to inmates in one adult prison and one youthful offender facility to be used for educational programming, video conferencing with families and to modify behavior.

"What we have found, talking to other states and researching this, the disciplinary reviews of inmates have gone down in 60 percent of the states that have tablets," she said.

Jones also believes it will help improve how officers manage their interactions with inmates. "If we could put incentives in the hands of an officer to control an inmate, they don't have to revert back to this negative behavior, either," she said.

Jones has another goal: Return to the reason younger offenders were supposed to be segregated from the adult population in the first place - to protect them and to give them extra attention and programming.

"We weren't doing that," she said. "A reduction in our staffing, a cut in our programming and we lost sight of the ball. We are now turning that back around to focus on what youthful offender programs are supposed to be about."

Jones took over in January 2015 at the request of Gov. Rick Scott at a time when the agency was wracked with allegations of widespread inmate abuse, investigative cover-ups, a malfunctioning health care system, deep budget deficits and deteriorating facilities. She had been retired after five years at the helm of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and had no previous prison management experience.

"I think I was very honest with you last January when I said I don't know why I'm here except the governor asked me to do it - don't know anything about it," Jones said. "Fourteen months later, truly it's a labor of love. I drank the Kool-Aid."

Jones said she is "tickled with Rep. Richardson" and his attention to the agency.

"There's nothing wrong with fresh eyes, which is kind of what I've brought to this department," she said.

She said she's "given him carte blanche to poke around" but is also "doing the best we can to also educate him about the things that he's not seeing behind the scenes, too." That list includes making many of the same changes Richardson is recommending, she said.

Richardson said he is pleased with the pace of change but he does wonder why the agency with its elaborate grievance process and multilayer inspector general's office couldn't connect the dots on the problems the way he has.

"I recognize I've got 30 years of audit experience. I know how to ask smart questions and I know how to get to the truth, but why couldn't somebody who's trained in this look at this and say this is wrong?" he asks. "There's no good answer, but this is all moving in the right direction."

By The Numbers

Youthful offenders in Florida prisons: 3,724

Lake City Correctional Facility: 864

Lancaster Correctional Institution and Work Camp: 662

Lowell Correctional Institution and Lowell Work Camp: 88

Sumter Correctional Institution, Annex and Boot Camp: 289

Source: Florida Department of Corrections

About David Richardson

Born in Houston, moved to Florida in 1968.

He attended Longwood Lyman High School and the University of Central Florida, where he received a degree in biology in 1979 and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1983.

Hired by the U.S. Department of Defense in Tampa as an auditor and received his Master's degree of Business in Administration from the University of Tampa in 1987. He worked for Ernst & Young as an accountant before starting his own advisory services firm in 1993.

Elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012.



The fight over Florida prison video


FEBRUARY 13, 2016 7:20 PM

Steven Zerbe was black and blue from head to toe, and his eyes were swollen shut. He was in respiratory failure, acute liver failure and had pneumonia when he died - six days after he was transported to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola from Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in June 2014.

Prior to his death, Zerbe, 37, who was legally deaf and blind, had alleged - to both his mother and prison officials - that he had been beaten, raped and knifed during his brief eight months in the Florida state prison system.

So how did Zerbe die? That's a question that his mother, Bonnie Zerbe, has been trying to get answered for nearly two years. The medical examiner, who initially didn't even want to conduct an autopsy, said he died of complications of lymphoma. But her son was never diagnosed with lymphoma, according to Zerbe.

His mother demanded the autopsy, his medical records and video from the prison in hopes they would explain how her son ended up so bruised and deathly ill. Prior to his death, she asked a nurse to take photographs of her son, showing what appeared to be large bruises all over his body.

But Zerbe, and many other families of inmates who died in Florida state prisons, have been routinely denied video and other documents by the Florida Department of Corrections, which cites medical privacy laws as well as legal exemptions related to security concerns, to prohibit their release. Often, the only way a family can obtain any information about an inmate's death is to hire an attorney and hope to prevail in court.

The state maintains that releasing prison video, in particular, compromises the security of the prison system and, in Zerbe's case, could reveal sensitive information that would endanger officers and other staff at Santa Rosa, one of the state's toughest prisons.

But two years before Zerbe's death, the state signed off on a reality TV show that spent eight weeks at Santa Rosa, filming many angles of the Panhandle prison, from the maximum confinement unit to gritty cells splattered with blood. Viewers could get an inside view of life behind bars, revealing where security cameras are located, when and how officers conduct searches, and even get a brief tutorial from an inmate on how to make a handcuff key out of a battery, then hide it in a roll-up deodorant container.

The result was a six-part series, Lock-up: Santa Rosa Extended Stay, which was part of MSNBC's ongoing documentary series about prisons across the nation.

The Miami Herald, which has been examining the suspicious deaths of inmates in Florida prisons for the past two years, is challenging FDC's refusal to release prison video, and has filed a civil lawsuit to obtain video relating to inmates who died under mysterious circumstances. Part of the company's argument is that if the state allowed a documentary crew to film at will for the purpose of entertainment, it should permit parents - and, the press and by extension the public - to examine video that could dispel lingering questions about a loved one's untimely death.

Zerbe, who suspects that her son was killed or that officers refused to give him medical help until his body shut down, said FDC records show her son was "fine" at 11 a.m. then suddenly "collapsed" for no apparent reason by 9:30 p.m. on June 8, 2014. Serving 15 years for aggravated battery, he had been at Santa Rosa for little more than a month before he collapsed, and he had been complaining that he was ill for more than a month, records show.

"I asked them, the assistant warden, over and over, on a daily basis, to produce videos of my son, daily and weekly logs on his housing, but they never responded. I told them because I knew something was wrong, that they would kill him at Santa Rosa, but they didn't listen."

After his death, she was told that some of the videos from previous prisons where he was sent were erased because by law, they only have to save video for 30 days. She said she was told that another video, taken after her son was sprayed with chemicals by officers at another prison, was turned on only after he was sprayed, so there's no recording showing what her son did wrong to deserve being doused with chemical agents.

After the medical examiner, Andrea Minyard, ruled that her son died of natural causes, Zerbe filed complaints with everyone from then-secretary Michael Crews to the state board that oversees Minyard and other medical examiners.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in its review of the case, concluded there was no evidence of foul play. It its final report, it described the video that investigators looked at - but it's clear the investigators only reviewed the prison video from the time Zerbe collapsed until he was rolled out of his cell in a wheelchair. The report notes that the video is "grainy" and that he didn't show any signs of trauma. There is no evidence that detectives tried to pull video in the hours before Zerbe was rushed to the hospital. That footage could show whether officers had checked on him or whether anyone entered the cell who might have harmed him.

Ron McAndrew, a former warden and prison inspector who now works as a consultant - often for those in conflict with the department - said FDLE overlooked several important factors.

"A competent investigator would have rounded up the video for the 24 to 48 hours prior to Zerbe leaving the cell," he said, adding that the investigators should have also reviewed the logs several days prior to the incident to look for notations that might have involved Zerbe.

Dr. John Marraccini, a forensic pathologist who reviewed the autopsy, said it is possible Zerbe's bruising came as a result of liver failure, but the video - or stills of the video - are critical to observing whether the bruising was evident at the time they pulled Zerbe from his cell.

"The stills from the prison videos should be compared with the ICU [intensive care unit] photos and autopsy photos to see if the skin marks resemble an advancing natural disease or something else," said Marraccini, the former Palm Beach medical examiner.

McAndrew said that as a warden and assistant warden for the Department of Corrections, he was regularly schooled by the state's legal counsel on "creative" ways to refuse to turn over public documents and video to attorneys representing inmates' families.

"It's really all a game for them," McAndrew said.

"They don't want to give you the video because it's revealing. Some states give it to you straightaway rather than pay attorneys, but Florida spends millions of dollars on legal defense to prevent you from having something that you can eventually get," he said.

Jeffery Beasley, the department's former inspector general and current inspector of intelligence, has met with Bonnie Zerbe in an an effort to resolve her concerns, the department says.

The MSNBC contract was controversial at the time it was  signed in 2011.   It was among a number of issues that led to the departure of then-FDC secretary Ed Buss. When Gov. Rick Scott's staff learned that Buss had approved a $110,000 contract to do the reality TV show, Scott pulled the plug on the series in August 2011, just as MSNBC had started filming. Scott's office reviewed the contract, however, and filming continued.

The contract did give the department the ability to preview the footage, though it's not clear what, if anything, affecting prison security was deleted from the program, since the series focused on what FDC's own attorneys argue are security breaches.

For example, the series showed the faces and, in a few instances, even displayed the names of corrections officers.

In FDC's response to the Herald's lawsuit, it notes that the state is exempt from producing video footage that shows "surveillance techniques, procedure and personnel; images of an individual, identifiable corrections officers, protected health information; information, which if released, would jeopardize a person's safety."

It says the concern with showing video from fixed-position cameras is that the footage will show the range and vulnerabilities of the camera network.

McKinley Lewis, the department spokesman, declined to comment, saying that the agency does not discuss pending litigation. In general, he added, the agency strives to be transparent and has fulfilled more than 200 public records requests from the Herald over the past seven months.

"As authorized by Florida Statute, materials that reveal or compromise security system plans within our correctional institutions are exempt from disclosure," he said in a statement.



February 10, 2016

Prisons can't treat mentally ill inmates

Thank you for the Feb. 7 editorial, Is Rainey now the victim of a cover-up? Of course, it is right: It defies logic that inmate Darren Rainey's death was accidental, as the leaked autopsy by the Miami-Dade medical examiner reportedly concluded.

One would have to believe that someone could accidentally lock himself in a shower isolated from video cameras, accidentally turn up the water temperature to 180 degrees and accidentally boil himself to death - all the while screaming for help.

This is why the ACLU of Florida and others made the request for an independent investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice - which is now clearly needed.

But beyond the circumstances of Rainey's death and whether anyone will ever be held accountable, the question has to be asked: Why was he (and many others like him) in prison in the first place?

Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for possession of cocaine. He also suffered from a mental illness, diagnosed as schizophrenia. This is not what prisons should be used for.

Between state and privatized prisons, Florida now incarcerates about 100,000 people, the third-largest prison population in the country. Aside from the failure to hold anyone in the Department of Corrections accountable for the brutal treatment of inmates, Rainey's case also highlights that we are spending tax dollars warehousing people in prison instead of investing in the mental-health services and drug treatment that they obviously need.

Texas, Georgia and Mississippi have begun reforming their criminal-justice and sentencing systems to stop using prisons to cage people like Rainey. What will it take to move Florida lawmakers?

Yes, Rainey should not have been locked in a scalding prison shower and boiled to death - but he should not have even been in prison in the first place.




FEBRUARY 9, 2016 10:15 PM

Rainey cover-up

As a psychotherapist who worked in the same psychiatric unit where Darren Rainey was murdered, I can tell you about the abusive, hostile environment that existed for counselors and inmate/patients alike.

Upper-level administrators and officers knew of men being starved, tormented, manhandled and beaten.

For the medical examiner to say that Rainey's death was accidental is to ignore what was really happening in the unit and to accept, without any investigation, the guards' version of events. In my experience, guards always presented a sanitized, fictional account of their actions absolving themselves of any blame. The guards' account of Rainey's killing read like a typical, "We put a man in the shower and - oh my goodness! - we came back later and he was dead! We just don't know what happened."

Add to that the many conflicting details between the preliminary autopsy and recent revelations in the final autopsy. "Cover-up" is too weak a phrase to describe events fostered by a culture of brutality and secrecy that existed in my former unit and the entirety of the Florida Department of Corrections.




Miami Herald Editorial

Is Rainey now the victim of a cover-up?

FEBRUARY 6, 2016

It's been well over three years since inmate Darren Rainey died at the Dade Correctional Institution after he was placed in a scalding shower for hours by guards - and still no final autopsy has been released. Why?

"It's extraordinarily unusual for an autopsy to take this long - and if people are thinking 'this is a cover-up,' well, this is what happens when it takes this long." That was the conclusion reached by one of the nation's most eminent forensic pathologists, Dr. Michael Baden, in a recent  interview  with Herald reporter Julie Brown.

Cover-up is a serious accusation, but how else to explain the delay? Especially since this is just one more suspicious development in a chain of events that began with the death of Mr. Rainey on June 23, 2012 after he was locked inside a prison shower with an elevated water temperature for a prolonged period.

That includes an apparent finding of the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office,  leaked  to the Herald, that Mr. Rainey died from  complications of schizophrenia, heart disease and "confinement'' in the shower.

It labeled the death, incredibly, "accidental."

The dead man was a schizophrenic and had reportedly suffered some sort of psychotic episode that annoyed prison guards. But as Mr. Baden drily observed, "You don't die from schizophrenia." And was it an accident that he was locked inside the shower, where - as opposed to other shower stalls closer to his cell - he had no access to the controls? No. His jailers put him there, and they were the ones who controlled the water temperature.

Was it an accident that he was left in the shower for nearly two hours? That his screams for help went unanswered? That his skin was sliding off his body after he collapsed? That "visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent's body," according to a report written one day after his death? Did anyone test the water temperature beforehand?

The Department of Corrections doesn't seem interested in getting to this bottom of this, nor any other state or local official. Why not? Should being a schizophrenic who's acting out in a prison result in death? Shouldn't someone ask if abuse of prisoners takes place routinely in this prison, as inmates maintain?

Investigators say it's notoriously difficult to determine criminal intent when probing prison deaths like that of Darren Rainey. But pretending nothing happened doesn't meet the ends of justice. Instead of asking about intent, why not ask whether the death was avoidable? Whether it was senseless? If the answers are Yes, why did it happen?

Consider what happened in Charlotte County on Florida 's Gulf Coast after inmate Matthew Walker was found beaten to death with a crushed larynx in April 2014 in the state prison there. A grand jury issued a blistering report 15 months later saying the death following a melee with guards was the result of failures by prison staff. They also classified it as a homicide.

Fifteen months! Here, Darren Rainey has been dead over 43 months, and the final autopsy report is still withheld. Why the hold-up? Police in Miami-Dade County are still carrying it as an open investigation.

Now the U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating the death of Mr. Rainey and other possible abuses at the jail. It's about time someone did, because local officials, shamefully, have done little to nothing. If this isn't a cover-up, why is it taking so long to get answers? This is a law-enforcement issue. Where are our law enforcers?


An M.E. casts doubt on Rainey's 'accidental' death New York pathologist says closure, answers needed 'Extraordinarily unusual' for autopsy to take 3 years

Inmate's relatives dubious no one meant to harm him Mark Joiner

BY JULIE K. BROWN  Jan 29, 2016

In his 40 years overseeing inmate death cases in New York 's prisons, Dr. Michael Baden says he has rarely seen a case as outrageous as Darren Rainey's.

Three and a half years after Rainey's death - in what witnesses say was a scalding shower at Dade Correctional Institution - the autopsy has still not been publicly released, and the criminal case remains open. Details of the report were leaked to the Miami Herald last week that his death has been ruled an "accident," a conclusion that stunned Rainey's relatives, who still haven't been able to see the autopsy report.

"Why are they still covering it up?'' asked Andre Chapman, Rainey's brother. "How did they come up with accidental?"

Baden, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist who served on New York State 's prison medical review board for four decades, said there is no reason that Rainey's family should still be waiting for closure.

"It's extraordinarily unusual for an autopsy to take this long - and if people are thinking 'this is a cover-up,' well, this is what happens when it takes this long."

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's autopsy report, completed last week but still under wraps, found that Rainey died from  complications of schizophrenia, heart disease and "confinement" in a shower  on June 23, 2012, sources told the Herald.

Witnesses, including a nurse on duty that night, and several inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past two years, have said that two corrections officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clark, forced Rainey into an enclosed, locked shower stall and that the water had been cranked as high as 180 degrees from a neighboring room, where the heat controls were.

Rainey, 50, suffered from schizophrenia and was housed in the Transitional Care Unit, the mental health facility at the prison. On the day he died, he had defecated in his cell, a possible "psychotic episode'' spurred by his mental disorder, the autopsy report said, according to Herald sources.

Rainey screamed in terror and begged to be let out for more than an hour until he collapsed and died, witnesses told the Herald. Some of the officers taunted and laughed at him, some inmates who were in the unit at the time of his death said.

One of them, Mark Joiner, was later ordered to clean up pieces of Rainey's skin that had slipped from his body, Joiner told the Herald in a 2014 interview.

That skin peeling, in conjunction with a process known as slippage or sloughing, was caused by prolonged exposure to water, humidity and the "warm, moist" environment, the autopsy concluded.

Baden , however, called into question several of the medical examiner's findings.

"Well, you don't die from schizophrenia," said Baden, former chief medical examiner in New York City. "And skin just doesn't slough off by itself."

Sloughing, he said, is "hot water trauma" that can only be caused by prolonged exposure to elevated water temperature.

If pieces of Rainey's skin peeled off simply from his being exposed to a lengthy shower spray, Baden said, then anyone who ever takes a long bath would find their skin peeling off their body.

A preliminary report by the medical examiner, written the day after Rainey died, said that Rainey had been locked inside the shower without access to the temperature controls. The investigator from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office characterized Rainey's condition this way: "Visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent's body."

In spite of the "visible trauma," Miami-Dade police, who were tasked with investigating in-custody deaths at the prison, let the case languish for nearly two years, filing it away as an unexplained in-custody death.

In May 2014, the Miami Herald published the first in a series of stories about the death of Rainey and other instances of death and abuse at the prison.

Harold Hempstead, an orderly in the TCU who witnessed what happened, had sent letters to and filed complaints with police, the medical examiner and the inspector general for the Florida Department of Corrections for more than a year, trying to get someone to investigate. He said the second-floor shower had been used on other inmates to punish them.

Hempstead noted that there were 10 showers situated closer to Rainey's cell than the one he was placed in. In all of the other showers, including one just a few feet from Rainey's cell door, the inmate would have been able to control the temperature.

Hempstead reached out to the Miami Herald through intermediaries in early 2014, and after a journalist requested an interview with Hempstead, detectives announced that the case was still open.

Clark left the agency to take a job as an officer for Miami Gardens police, and Thompson was hired by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Since the case became public, Hempstead has detailed a number of alleged crimes at the prison. He and others, including nurses and other staffers, allege that officers starved, beat and sexually abused inmates in the mental health unit. Hempstead contends that at least two inmates died while he was there as a result of food being withheld. One of Hempstead 's jobs, off and on, was to help corrections officers distribute food trays to the cells.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office must now decide whether to charge anyone with a crime in connection with Rainey's death.

Abe Laeser, a former top homicide prosecutor in Miami-Dade, said the case would be difficult - but not impossible - to prosecute, depending on what other evidence investigators have uncovered.

The finding by the medical examiner that the death was "accidental" doesn't necessarily mean a crime hasn't been committed, Laeser said. He explained, for example, that if someone drowns in a pool, at first glance the medical examiner may find that it was an accident. Prosecutors, however, may find evidence that the victim was pushed into the pool.

"In this case, [Rainey] was in the water a long time, and he was screaming, so the question is why wasn't someone monitoring him? The prosecutor must look at whether he was placed in a position where he really couldn't fend for himself and that may have been the crime," said Laeser, who is now retired and teaches law at Florida International University.

"Somebody knows. It's getting someone to say what they know that's difficult."

Baden said the shower being rigged with external temperature controls should have been a red flag that there was a conspiracy that more people knew about than just Clark and Thompson.

"It was an illegal setup. You can't have a private shower like that set up without those officers' superiors knowing about it. That was more like a torture chamber than a mental health station," he said.

"How could it be accidental when he had flesh falling off his body?" said Chapman, the brother, who recently moved from Tampa to Virginia.

"It's been almost four years, and we still don't understand," Chapman said.

Rainey had been serving a two-year sentence on a cocaine charge and was only four months into his sentence when he died.

Chapman still goes over the details in his head that he was told when his brother died. He said he was only told that his brother collapsed in a shower. The death certificate lists "undetermined" as his cause of death.

Chapman has long been troubled by how the medical examiner's office pressured him to get his brother cremated.

"They were rushing me to get him cremated or to do something with his body. I had no way of transporting the body, and I just couldn't get there," said Chapman, who lived in Tampa at the time.

The medical examiner's office would not comment on the case because the criminal investigation is still open.

Rainey's sister, Rene Chapman, said she will never accept the suggestion that the officers who put Rainey in the shower didn't know that they would harm him.

"They were doing this to other people," she said. "The only thing with my brother is they went too far. Now someone has to pay for this."


The inmate who exposed Florida prisons' culture of cruelty

George's Note: I knew Harold Hempstead from when I was still working in the psychiatric ward at Dade CI. He was housed in J3 - steps away from my old office and where Darren Rainey was killed. Concerned about inmate abuse, Harold told me how guards, thinking he wasn't listening as he did custodial chores, amused themselves with the latest torment they perpetrated on mentally ill patients.

Many know that I took steps to bring Rainey's killers to justice after a former coworker called two days after his scalding death and blurted out, "THEY KILLED HIM!" But my efforts pale in comparison to Harold's ongoing campaign inside the FL DOC. I am awed by his courage and tenacity.

I worry about Harold given the ability of the DOC to get rid of people who have the temerity to question their cover-up philosophy. It's my hope this added publicity will protect him somewhat. Please take the time to sign the petition below to protect Harold Hempstead. It is no exaggeration to say that he is at risk daily of being murdered while he is still in the control of the Florida Department of Corrections.

Florida Prisons

AUGUST 8, 2015

The inmate who exposed Florida prisons' culture of cruelty




Harold and his sister Windy


Harold Hempstead is a man with two conflicting narratives. One is a criminal past that sent him to prison for life. The other, a courageous pursuit of justice that has shaken the corrupt and crumbling foundation of Florida's prison system.

Hempstead didn't set out to be a hero and, perhaps to some people, he isn't a hero at all. But it is likely that no one would have ever known about the death of a mentally ill inmate named Darren Rainey, or about the systemic culture of physical and mental abuse of inmates in Florida prisons, had it not been for Hempstead.

Hempstead's steadfast determination to expose the monstrous acts he says he witnessed ultimately brought about an overhaul of the agency, the firings of top corrections officials and officers, federal arrests and an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hempstead did all this from a prison cell - and in spite of threats, intimidation and a haunting fear that one day he would suffer "an accident" and never wake up.

"What he did took real courage," said Malcolm Tomlin, a retired Florida corrections officer and prison minister who led Bible studies with Hempstead at Dade Correctional Institution.

"He saw something was wrong and he took a stand. . He was blackballed with the officers. That will go with him wherever he is sent. But he did what was right."

Hempstead reached out to the Miami Herald - ultimately maintaining a correspondence and engaging in regular phone calls, one as as recently as Friday - after authorities ignored his pleas to investigate the death of Rainey.

The convicted burglar didn't always do the right thing. At the age of 13, Hempstead was already stealing and getting into trouble on the streets of St. Petersburg, where he grew up the youngest of three siblings. While still at 16th Street Middle School in St. Petersburg, he was recruited by detectives, who paid him handsomely to give them tips that helped them solve crimes, according to confidential police reports obtained by the Herald with Hempstead's permission.

By his early 20s, however, he had started to fall out of favor with police, some of whom tried to arrest him a couple of times, not knowing that he was engaged in intelligence gathering for another detective squad. One time, he was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, but the charge was dropped after the cops accepted his explanation that he was playing a role, setting up a drug dealer, the records show.

But it was a dog named Molly that really led to his undoing.

In 1999, police investigating a rash of burglaries in his neighborhood found the dead German shepherd's ashes in a stolen urn, along with about $200,000 in pilfered loot stashed in a U-Haul at his home. He was charged with 38 burglaries.

Though he had no history of violence, the judge, calling him "a despicable human being," sentenced him to 165 years in prison. He was just 22 when he entered the Florida prison system.

Pinellas County Circuit Judge Brandt Downey III, accused prior to that of tainting jurors, was later defrocked in a pornography scandal.

For all intents and purposes, time has no meaning for Hempstead, who is now 39. He unsuccessfully appealed his sentence, and sued or filed hand-written motions against the police, the judge, the prosecutor and even his own lawyer.

Over the past 15 years, Hempstead has developed a deep religious faith and now worships and reads the Bible daily. He has enrolled in dozens of correspondence courses, earning certifications in everything from paralegal work to mopping up hazardous materials. Eventually, in 2010, he was trusted enough to move freely about the confinement units - a more restrictive form of incarceration than general population - as an orderly at Dade Correctional Institution south of Homestead.

The facility, set amid farm stands and alligator swamps on the edge of the Florida Everglades, has been described - even by staff and officers who work there -as a squalid, un-airconditioned, putrid hell. Up until late last year, the roofs, the plumbing and the electrical systems were deteriorated, and the kitchen was so filled with rodent droppings and infested with roaches that it flunked several health inspections and was designated a health hazard during an audit last year.

"In many housing units, it was not possible to turn showers and faucets off completely, but in one dorm the drain was so clogged that water ran out on the housing floor. In D housing unit, there was a broken light fixture hanging from the ceiling above an occupied bunk," auditors found, among other hazards listed in the report.

Hempstead had already seen the inside of almost half of Florida's 49 state-run prisons, and to him, Dade really wasn't any worse than the others.

By that time, he said, he was used to seeing horrible things in Florida prisons: inmates being starved, beaten, sexually assaulted, mentally tortured by officers and gassed for no reason. Officers putting laxatives in inmates' food, urinating on their clothing and toothbrushes and paying inmates to attack other inmates. Sick inmates begging for medical care, only to be told they were faking. Even basic necessities like soap and toilet paper were often rationed to make their lives more miserable.

But at Dade, while working in the TCU, or transitional care unit that houses mentally ill inmates, he said he witnessed officers punish and torture prisoners who were the most vulnerable - those who were so sick they had no control over their faculties.

Hempstead grew up around mental illness. His father, an alcoholic, died when he was 7, and he and his brother and sister were raised by their mother, who was committed to psychiatric hospitals off and on for as long as a year.

"I did want to help my mom out with the issues she had, going in and out of hospitals. She would tell me about the things that happened to her, being tied down and stuck with needles. As a child I couldn't help my mom out and I wanted to," Hempstead said.

He tried helping some of the inmates at Dade, slipping them food or arranging to get prisoners a mattress when they had none. But, in many instances, there was really nothing he could do without being punished himself, so he did what he was ordered to do - even if it meant preparing a bucket of chemicals to be thrown on an inmate to get him to behave.

Then, in January 2012, the guards came up with an even more creative and sinister way to torture prisoners in the mental health unit: placing them in scalding hot showers to control them.

"Then it hit me," Hempstead recalled. "It felt like 1,000 pounds of sadness fell on me. It overtook me. I was in my cell crying. I just couldn't take it anymore."

Taunted and tormented

On June 23, 2012, Darren Rainey, a 5-foot-6 inmate, was handcuffed by officers. Rainey, 50, had been at Dade only a few months and was serving a two-year term for drug possession.

Rainey, a Muslim with whom the Christian Hempstead had little in common and scant contact, suffered from severe schizophrenia. On that evening, on the pretext that Rainey had misbehaved by defecating in his cell, two officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clarke, the latter a 6-foot-4, 300-pound former college football lineman, led him to a 12-by-3 shower stall.

They threw him a bar of soap, locked the door, then turned on the water, which was cranked up to more than 180 degrees. According to Hempstead and other inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past year, the officers laughed and taunted Rainey as he begged for forgiveness, gasping for air in the scalding steam. They then left, and when they returned nearly two hours later, Rainey was dead, with pieces of his skin floating in the water.

Inmates would later say they were ordered by officers to clean up the shower with bleach, throw away the fragments of his skin and never speak about what happened or, they were told, they, too, would face the same fate as Rainey.

"The shower treatment," as it was called, was used by officers on other inmates, Hempstead explained in one of many interviews with the Herald. It was first used to control inmate Daniel Geiger, who chattered incessantly, annoying officers. The guards sometimes purposefully placed him in a cell next to another inmate they wanted to punish.

"Geiger was the loudest inmate in the unit. He was 110 pounds and constantly being deprived of food. I would have thought if anyone would have collapsed and died it would have been him," Hempstead said.

He recalled that one of the inmates suggested putting Geiger into the shower to shut him up, and it worked.

"He kept screaming, 'It's hot, get me out of here!' Then, after 10 or 20 minutes, he stopped yelling. I think they put him in there three or four times," Hempstead said.

As the orderly who served inmates their food trays, Hempstead saw how the officers devised a system for depriving prisoners of food, sometimes for weeks. They came up with names for this treatment, possibly inspired by football terminology.

"A two-point conversion meant no lunch or dinner for two days. A six-point conversion was no lunch or dinner on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays."

Some inmates dropped so much weight that Hempstead said one guard - a sergeant since promoted to lieutenant - would proudly announce "Welcome to Auschwitz," when someone new came into the unit.

Hempstead said hungry inmates would break sprinklers just so they would be charged criminally with vandalism and be transported to the Dade County Jail - where they would finally be fed.

"It was definitely evil. There were times when they were laughing as they were starving inmates. A lot of it was hard to deal with," he said.

Although the autopsies give another cause, Hempstead believes two deaths that occurred while he was working in the TCU could be attributed to the punitive lack of feeding.

"You know, I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but nothing I did resulted in somebody dying," he said.

Hempstead was initially apprehensive about reporting what he saw. At first, he quietly confided in the doctors and nurses who worked for Corizon, the private healthcare company contracted by the state to provide medical and psychiatric care for inmates.

But it soon became apparent as the months went by that they would do nothing.

"I threatened the doctors, told them, 'If you don't do this, I'm going to get your license.' They took an oath. I just wanted them to report it, but they wouldn't," Hempstead said.

The corrections officers grew bolder and began other abusive tactics on the inmates. Sometimes, they would place a violent inmate in the same cell with a smaller prisoner they wanted to punish and walk away, allowing the brutal inmate to beat or sexually assault the other inmate, Hempstead said.

In December 2012, Hempstead was transferred out of Dade Correctional to another prison, and it was then that he began in earnest to report what was happening at the prison.

At one prison, he spoke to a psychiatric counselor.

"I told her what they were doing and she looked at me like I was telling her a story out of a horror movie. A week later, she said, 'We're going to talk about something else.' She didn't want to talk about Dade anymore," Hempstead said.

Though he didn't know it at the time, other inmates who had been transferred out of Dade were also reporting what happened. Their complaints to the Department of Corrections also went unheeded.

Dade's former warden, Jerry Cummings, in an interview last year, admitted he heard that inmates in the mental health unit weren't being fed, but said he couldn't do anything about it because he couldn't prove it.

The cameras in the unit, he said, only captured the guards giving the inmates trays; it was not discernible whether the trays had food on them, he said. In prison parlance, an empty tray is known as an air tray.

"I would walk in there and the inmates would beg for food, for soap, for a toothbrush," Cummings said. "The officers held all the power and if they didn't want to feed them, they wouldn't feed them."

Records show that Hempstead wrote dozens of letters and complaints about the abuse throughout 2013, sending them to the Department of Corrections, to Miami-Dade police, to the Miami-Dade medical examiner and to the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, which inexplicably returned them, telling him to write to the state attorney in Pinellas County, where Hempstead was convicted. All the crimes he alleged happened were in Miami-Dade, not Pinellas.

He wrote to Gov. Rick Scott, who took office in 2011 pledging to slash $1 billion out of the Department of Corrections, the state's largest agency. Scott's office forwarded Hempstead's complaints to Jeffery Beasley, the DOC's inspector general. They were all returned to Hempstead with no action, for various reasons. Among them: that he filed the wrong form or that his grievance didn't affect him personally.

"I had written a dozen or more letters, with maps of the shower, maps of the TCU. I sent them to the medical examiner and Miami-Dade police, but nothing happened," Hempstead recalled.

For two years, Rainey's case languished in the case files of Miami-Dade police, who were entrusted with investigating it; and with the Department of Corrections, whose inspector general's office suspended its investigation four months after his death, in October 2012, with no action.

It appeared that Rainey's death would be written off as just another in-custody death, likely the result of natural causes. Rainey's brother, Andre Chapman, who lives in Tampa, said the only thing he was told about his brother's death was that he suffered a heart attack.

"If someone put you or I in a scalding shower like that, I think we might die of a heart attack, too," said Chapman's attorney, Milton C. Grimes.

Hempstead, meanwhile, was shuffled around the prison system, and with each stop, it seemed the officers knew about him and his crusade. They made it clear they wanted him to shut up.

"It started with them searching me and ransacking my cell," he said. At the prison system's Reception and Medical Center, north of Gainesville, one officer reminded him how officers at the prison used to kick the gold teeth out of inmates' mouths - and said they used to bury other inmates in the rec yard.

"He said, 'You know, people can just die here. Some people die from luck.' I asked him what he meant and he said, 'It would be luck for us, not luck for them.'''

Hempstead was sent back to Dade in June 2013 - a year after Rainey's death. Clarke - one of the officers who forced Rainey into the shower - was in charge of his dorm.

"He started calling me his dog, and he was bragging about beating the Rainey rap," Hempstead said.

Then one day, in April 2014, Hempstead enlisted a friend on the inside of the prison to call the Miami Herald. In order for a reporter to interview Hempstead, he was told he needed to write the Herald, giving its representative permission to visit him.

The first letter he wrote to the Herald was seized by the officers. At 3 o'clock in the morning, Hempstead said he was led into a control room, where the guards forced him on the floor and interrogated him for more than an hour, demanding to know why he was writing to a journalist. They vowed to throw him in solitary confinement - forever, if necessary, unless he kept quiet.

"My biggest fear was going to confinement because I had seen plenty of things that they did to inmates in confinement. It's easy for them to put medicine in your food; you can O.D. an inmate. I worked there and knew all their tricks," Hempstead said.

He was scared but pressed on. An interview with the Herald was finally arranged, then abruptly canceled by the DOC. It was rescheduled. By then, a reporter had started digging, and submitting public records requests to the police, the medical examiner and the prison agency.

Hempstead was also submitting public records requests from behind bars. He ordered reports from the police, the prison system and other agencies.

On May 23, 2014, the Herald published the first in what would be a series of stories about Rainey and other suspicious deaths and assaults of inmates in Florida prisons.

Over the past year, the agency's secretary was replaced, wardens and corrections officers were fired, the FBI made arrests, the state Legislature called for hearings, and the governor and new secretary, Julie Jones, enacted reforms. Partly due to prodding by a civil lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Florida, Dade's transitional care unit has been renovated, complete with new surveillance cameras, TVs and a wall mural.

Despite all that's been done, Rainey's case remains open, his autopsy is still filed away in the medical examiner's office and his family hasn't been told how and why he died.

To this day, no one from the Department of Corrections has interviewed Hempstead about Rainey. In a statement Friday, the agency said it continues to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies investigating the case.

"In my opinion, because Rainey was black, poor and mentally ill, to a lot of people his life had no significance," Hempstead said recently. "But to me, if we have that opinion on the value of life, and if staff thinks they can get away with killing inmates, then they are going to get away with anything.''

Miami Harold

These days, corrections officers and some inmates call Hempstead "Miami Harold," owing to his frequent talks with Herald journalists. His friends and family continue to refer to him as Joey, his middle name.

Because Florida has no parole, he must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, despite an exemplary record behind bars that has shaved a few years off his sentence. He is not scheduled to be released until 2161, nearly a century and a half from now.

Like Hempstead, some 60 percent of Florida's 100,000 inmates are serving time for nonviolent crimes. Florida is second only to Louisiana among states with the largest number of inmates serving life for nonviolent crimes, according to a 2013 analysis of state and federal statistics by the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the time Hempstead was sentenced in 2000, Judge Downey told him: "I hope you die in prison."

"The problem with Mr. Hempstead is he thought he was smarter than everybody else," said Downey, now retired and living in Indiana. "He was arrogant, abrasive, sort of an 'I know better than you' kind of person."

The prosecutor, Pat Siracusa, recalls that, at the time, Hempstead's case was one of the biggest burglary trials in Pinellas County. It involved more than 80 witnesses and 350 pieces of evidence. Hempstead was accused of being the mastermind behind a burglary ring that stole everything from deer antlers to gold watches.

At trial, his accomplice testified that Hempstead taught him everything, right down to picking out which residences to break into, how to get in and how to get out undetected.

"He hit neighborhoods he was familiar with, places where he had cut lawns," Siracusa said of Hempstead. "It was a lot of stuff and a lot of lives that were disrupted."

Hempstead insists he didn't break into homes, but acknowledges he fenced stolen goods. The accomplice who fingered him served no time in prison.

One of the victims, Jeff Fineran, said he had about $7,000 worth of property stolen, though he managed to have some of it returned. He recalls wanting Hempstead to get a stiff sentence, but was surprised at just how harsh it was.

"He didn't take somebody's life," Fineran said. "I think he should have a long sentence but not where he won't ever have a free breath of air. Forgive and forget. All I can do is pray for him."

Siracusa, who is now a judge, remains convinced that Hempstead deserves to be behind bars. But he declined to comment on whether, had he been the judge, he would have imposed a 165-year sentence.

Bob Dillinger, who has been public defender in Pinellas County since 1997, doesn't recall the case, but he did remember Hempstead's judge. Dillinger once attempted to have Downey removed from 200 cases because the judge made derogatory comments about a defendant to a jury.

Downey later acknowledged his comments in that case were improper and sent letters of apology to the six jurors who decided the case in 1999.

Downey, a 17-year veteran of the bench, continued to generate controversy, including accusations that he made improper utterances toward female litigators. And in 2005, after a virus infected the courthouse computer system, technicians tracked the problem down to Downey, who had been using his office laptop to look at pornography.

He retired a year later as part of what was essentially a plea deal brokered with the Judicial Qualifications Commission that was approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

The judge's comments from the bench in Hempstead's case should have been enough to grant him a new sentencing, said Jeff Weiner, a Miami criminal defense attorney and former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"That judge made comments that were completely inappropriate and out of context to the crime that he committed," Weiner said.

'Protective management'

Hempstead is now housed at Columbia Correctional Institution in north-central Florida, one of the state's toughest prisons. State corrections officials call his status "protective management." He believes that is a misnomer, and that protective management is one of the most dangerous places in a prison.

"I've been through just about everything you can be subjected to in prison just short of being killed," said Hempstead. He spends most of his days in a 12-by-10 cell with no air conditioning.

After his most recent transfer out of Dade - for his own safety, after the Herald quoted him by name, with his permission - he lost all the privileges he enjoyed while working as an orderly.

Hempstead is now linked to "a high-profile investigation," and has limited privileges. He is allowed to go to chapel two hours a week and has access to gym equipment. Still, in the summer, when temperatures climb to 90 degrees or more, inmates sleep on the concrete floor, along with rodents and insects.

The others in protective management include some of the most vicious inmates at Columbia, some of them placed there after they were accused of beating or sexually assaulting other inmates.

"I just thought, what kind of a place did they send me to? It seemed like a killing ground of inmate violence," Hempstead said.

He has filed a lawsuit - the latest in a series of long, handwritten court pleadings over the years - seeking release into the general prison population, saying that he has been traumatized by all the violence he has witnessed in Florida prisons.

"What rationale is there that he gets a longer sentence than most people who commit murder?" asked Howard Finkelstein, Broward County's chief public defender.

"The interests of all people in Florida have been served by this man by revealing the horrors and violence of both corrections officers and inmates. Because of him, we are the better for it."


Since Harold Hempstead revealed details of the death of Darren Rainey, a series of changes have occurred, including:

1) Corrections officers in the mental health ward at Dade Correctional have been reassigned. The two officers most directly involved in putting Rainey in the scalding shower have left the agency. The warden and assistant warden were forced to retire.

2) The U.S. Justice Department initiated an investigation into Rainey's death.

3) The head of the prison system, then-Secretary Michael Crews, instituted crisis-intervention training for corrections officers, two new centers to help inmates re-enter society and new policies aimed at improving accountability among officers.

4) Crews turned 82 inmate death investigations over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and FDLE was assigned to handle most future in-custody death investigations.

5) Crews created an "inmate mortality database" to publicly account for the deaths of Florida inmates.

6) Crews ordered a department-wide audit of use of force against inmates, which had doubled over the past five years.

7) Crews summarily fired over 32 corrections officers involved in excessive force against inmates.

8) Dade Correctional's mental health unit was renovated to include high-tech cameras with audio, televisions and murals. An ombudsman was assigned to oversee patient treatment and care.

9) Crews retired, and his replacement, Julie Jones, was given a mandate to overhaul the agency.

10) Jones rebid of the agency's healthcare contracts.

11) Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order calling for an independent audit of the entire prison system, focusing on staffing, organization and ways to improve safety, security and the rehabilitation of inmates.

12) New surveillance camera systems were ordered installed throughout the prison system, and Jones has proposed putting air conditioning in all facilities.


Prison agency vows 'increased accountability' after grand jury report on inmate beating

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas on Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Florida Department of Corrections announced Tuesday it was conducting an internal investigation into the five guards implicated by a grand jury in the beating death of a Charlotte Correctional Institution inmate last year and will begin conducting psychological evaluations of new staff in response to recommendations by the citizens panel. 

The policy changes are the result of a scathing rebuke of the state prison agency by a Charlotte County grand jury which investigated the death of inmate  Matthew Walker  in April 2014.

In a presentment unsealed Tuesday, the grand jury concluded that because the prison failed to collect evidence and contain the crime scene, there was not enough evidence to bring charges against the prison officers suspected of beating the 45-year-old inmate to death. 

The grand jury concluded that Walker's death was "tragic, senseless and avoidable." Unable to indict, the panel made a series of recommendations "to assist the Department of Corrections to avoid these types of incidents in the future."

The Department of Corrections told the Miami Herald that the agency was prepared to "aggressively address the recommendations and concerns voiced by the grand jury" and during the course of the investigation "implemented proactive policies and procedures which increase the accountability of our officers and the wellbeing and safety of our inmates." Although nine officers involved in the beating death were fired last year, they have all been rehired. Four officers have been placed on desk duty, with no contact with inmates pending the agency's probe, but their supervisors -- the warden and two assistant wardens -- have kept their jobs or have been promoted. 

Among the recommendations, the grand jury concluded that "every applicant for the position of corrections officer should undergo rigorous psychological testing before being hired by the Department of Corrections" and, once and officer has been involved in a use of force incident, he or she should be tested for drug use. 

In response, the agency vowed that "in the coming year, the Department's Office and Human Resources will develop and implement psychological evaluations that will be utilized during the hiring and recruitment process."

The grand jury also said the agency should curtail the policy of waking prisoners up in the middle of the night, simply to "harass and aggravate them." DOC said that the so-called "cell compliance checks" after "lights out" do not comply with department policy "and have not, at any time, been an approved security protocol for any of our facilities."

However, the officer who initiated the policy, Capt. David Thomas  was reassigned to Okeechoee CI last year and told the grand jury that the compliance checks are a good policy and "I am doing them where I am now." 

The grand jury also found that the delayed "medical response to inmate injuries has been a problem at CCI" and may have contributed to Walker's death. It recommended DOC "reassess the medical needs of this large and diverse prison, and of all corrections facilities under its jurisdiction, to ensure there is appropriate staffing for all hours of every day" and that inmates are given "reasonable, timely and appropriate medical treatment."

The agency said Tuesday it will "ensure that this recommendation" be included when it rebids its contracts with the private health care providers that serve the prison system.

The grand jury also urged DOC to establish protocols "to ensure the proper preservation and chain of custody of potential evidence when a crime is committed or after there is a use of force resulting in death or serious bodily injury."

DOC Secretary Julie Jones said the agency will "cross train" its staff and the staff of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which conducts the death investigations to "ensure that evidence is preserved and investigations are initiated in a timely manner."

The grand jury noted that corrections officers were allowed to write their reports about the death of Walker together -- a situation that "calls into question the veracity of their statements and their overall credibility." It said that "each witness should be maintained separately upon the arrival of the FDLE" -- even if it "may pose a hardship to those operating the facility."

DOC, which has acknowledged it has been chronically understaffed at most of its prisons, did not respond to the recommendations that staff be separated until FDLE questions staff. 

Finally, the grand jury concluded that the evidence in Walker's cell was tampered with, that boots of one officer appeared to have been cleaned of DNA, that video cameras were not working and that DOC inspector general failed to turn over video footage that may have revealed how Walker was treated.

To avoid tampering with evidence in the future, the grand jury recommended the agency spend money on cameras. It said that working video cameras, and handheld cameras, should be stationed in all dormitories and "that neither DOC nor its Office of Inspector General should determine which video evidence is preserved or provided to FDLE." A proposal to require corrections officers to wear body cameras was recommended during the legislative session but rejected as too expensive. 

"We look forward to the findings of the OIG administrative investigation and will hold accountable all who have violated our policy or procedure and acted in a manner which endangers the safety of our staff and inmates,'' DOC said in its statement.

Sen.  Greg Evers , R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, who tried and failed to create an independent oversight commission to add a layer of scrutiny over the troubled agency, said he hadn't read the grand jury report yet but planned to use it to continue his committee's investigation into the use of force and cover-ups at DOC. 

"I commend the state attorney for using his power to instigate an investigation and I look forward to not only following up with the grand jury recommendations but speaking with the state attorney to see what else he recommends,'' Evers said. 

Here is DOC's full statement released to the Herald/Times:

On July 7, at 10:53 a.m., Secretary Julie Jones received the Grand Jury Presentment filed with the Twentieth Judicial Circuit Court regarding the death of Matthew Walker at Charlotte Correctional Institution. Since taking office in January 2015, Secretary Jones has welcomed constructive criticism of the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) and has acknowledged that several outstanding investigations may put the Department in a critical light. The death of Matthew Walker is one such incident. During the course of this investigation, and while awaiting information from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the State Attorney's Office and the Grand Jury, the Department remained vigilant and implemented proactive policies and procedures which increase the accountability of our officers and the wellbeing and safety of our inmates. Following receipt of the Presentment, the Department will aggressively address the recommendations and concerns voiced by the Grand Jury.

Cell compliance checks after "lights out" do not comply with Department policy and have not, at any time, been an approved security protocol for any of our facilities. In April of 2014, immediately following the death of Matthew Walker, Warden Reid instructed staff at Charlotte Correctional Institution to cease all after "lights out" compliance checks and reiterated that any such activity by officers would be seen as gross misconduct. 

Pursuant to the Grand Jury's recommendation regarding the response of medical personnel and proper treatment of those in need, the Department will ensure that this recommendation will be integrated in the ITN process associated with the Department's move to rebid our health care contracts. 

Secretary Jones said, "The completion of a Memorandum of Understanding with the FDLE, and the associated cross training between the Department and FDLE staff will ensure that evidence is preserved and investigations are initiated in a timely manner. The Department will work closely with FDLE to develop mechanisms to secure and preserve crime scenes in a manner consistent with best practices." Please see the Department's current MOU with FDLE attached.

The Department is committed to hiring qualified candidates to serve the state of Florida as correctional officers and staff. In the coming year, the Department's Office and Human Resources will develop and implement psychological evaluations that will be utilized during the hiring and recruitment process. 

Today, pursuant to Department protocol, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) opened an administrative investigation into the death of inmate Matthew Walker. During this investigation, the OIG will seek to determine whether policy and procedure violations were committed by staff, and make recommendations for all policy or procedural deficiencies.

The staff members associated with this case who were administratively reassigned to positions in which they have no inmate conduct will remain separated from the inmate population pending the conclusion of the OIG investigation.

The Department will continue to move forward through meaningful changes that create and maintain a safe and secure environment for our staff and inmates. Recently, the Department has installed numerous cameras in many facilities, including Charlotte Correctional Institution, and will remain committed to implementing initiatives that increase accountability and improve training for our staff.

Additionally, starting immediately, the Department will be reviewing all policies and procedures related to equipment and shift changes to account for personnel movement and equipment reassignment.

We look forward to the findings of the OIG administrative investigation and will hold accountable all who have violated our policy or procedure and acted in a manner which endangers the safety of our staff and inmates. 


Grand jury report rips Florida prison over deadly beatdown

BY JULIE K. BROWN    July 7, 2015

Matthew Walker was unconscious, handcuffed, face-down on the sidewalk, in front of a dorm at Charlotte Correctional Institution. The inmate had been beaten and his larynx was crushed so badly that his throat was swollen shut.

Lt. Tyler Triplett, blood on his white shirt, stood over him.

"Do you know who I am? I'm going to kill you mother------!" he shouted, so visibly angry that he had to be restrained by his supervisor, a corrections captain.

But corrections officers were busy tending to the minor injuries of two guards hurt during a melee with Walker, so they let him lay there, thinking that he was faking.

"Whatever game you're playing, you need to get up and walk. My staff is too tired to do this," the captain, David Thomas, told him, according to witnesses.

But Walker, 45, had already asphyxiated and, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday, over the next few hours, prison staff removed, contaminated or cleaned up most of the crime scene evidence. The officers gathered in a room, wrote their reports and, a few days later, met again at a convenience store near the prison, ostensibly to support each other after the ordeal, the report said.

In a blistering and graphic rebuke of the Florida Department of Corrections, the Charlotte County grand jury report stated that Walker's death - ruled a homicide by the medical examiner - was "tragic, senseless and avoidable" and the result of a gross litany of failures by prison staff.

The report concluded, however, that there was not enough evidence to bring charges against five corrections officers the panel suspected had beaten and stomped on him, largely because the prison staff failed to properly contain the crime scene and collect evidence.

"Unfortunately, and to the frustration of this Grand Jury," the report said, "there was a great deal of conflicting testimony regarding who and what was responsible for the injuries suffered by Walker."

More than a year after Walker's death, nearly every officer involved in the incident remains employed by the department. Nine of them, fired last year, have won their jobs back and the warden, Tom Reid, remains at the helm of the prison, located in Punta Gorda. His two assistant wardens have been promoted to warden at other institutions.

The grand jury said it was clear that the confrontation with the 6-2, 250-pound Walker was brought on by commanders at the prison, who authorized a policy of waking prisoners up in the middle of the night, simply to "harass and aggravate them," inmates told the grand jury. When the prisoners inevitably became agitated, the officers were ready to punish them by forcing them into confinement - separated from the prison population -and if they resisted, the inmates would be gassed and restrained.

Both corrections officers and inmates told the jury that the "cell compliance checks" were uncalled for and cruel.

Said one corrections officer: "Who wants to get woken up at 3 or 4 a.m. to be told a towel is out of place. there was talk among the sergeants that this was a ticking time bomb."

It was during one of these cell checks on April 11, 2014, that a female officer confronted Walker, who was in cell E4-210, with a cellmate who is not identified in the report. Earlier that evening, a number of sergeants had been ordered into a meeting where they were told to conduct the inspections, which were the brainchild of Thomas, the report said.

So after "lights out'' at 11 p.m. - though it was unclear what time the inspections began - a team of officers entered Walker's dorm. The female guard walked over to Walker's cell and demanded he put away a cup and a magazine that were left out.

Neither Walker nor his cellmate responded because they were presumably asleep. So she shouted again. This time, Walker allegedly responded "I am not doing sh---t.'' At that point, she summoned Triplett and told Walker he was going to be locked up for disobeying a verbal order and disrespecting an officer.

"This is crazy," Walker responded, his cellmate told the grand jury. "You are waking me up because of a cup?"

Corrections officers told the panel that they went to handcuff Walker, who resisted and began fighting back. Inmates said Triplett, who was wearing a white shirt because of his rank, was the first to lay hands on Walker, who grabbed a railing and continued to ask why he was being struck.

The cellmate, who had been ordered out of the cell but said he could still see what was happening, said he heard commands full of expletives and "hands flying everywhere" though he couldn't see who was hitting whom because all the other officers wore brown shirts. Triplett then pulled out a canister of pepper spray and sprayed it toward Walker.

The confrontation spilled out onto the dorm's upper-tier catwalk, and as it continued, two officers were injured, with one knocked unconscious. The grand jury report noted that the panel received conflicting testimony from witnesses as to how the guards were injured.

The officers said that Walker continued to struggle and ignore commands, but all the officers denied that they punched, kicked or struck him with their radios - as some inmates claimed. However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that physical evidence and testimony showed that Walker was struck by corrections officers "numerous times."

"Testimony was conflicting regarding which officers were delivering blows to Walker, how many, and where each officer was located while those blows were delivered," the grand jury stated.

In addition to Triplett, the inmates identified acting Sgt. Edward Sinor, Sgt. Daniel Lynch, acting Sgt. Mestely Saintervil and officer Thomas Weidner as being involved in the beating.

Thomas, the captain, was summoned to the dorm and ordered the officers to pick up Walker, who was laying on his left side, covered in blood. Thomas found a radio nearby and gave it to one of his officers, but he told the grand jury he could not recall whose radio it was and didn't think to preserve it as evidence.

Thomas said he ordered Walker to stand, but when the inmate didn't comply, they carried him, face-down, his hands cuffed behind his back, down the stairs, where he was placed on the floor of the dorm, while they waited for the door of the control room to open.

Thomas ordered Walker to stand again, but there was no response. It was then that he was carried outside the dorm, where Triplett threatened him, according to testimony cited in the grand jury report. Several officers later confirmed that Triplett had lost his temper and began shouting expletives at Walker, who remained motionless on the ground.

It's not clear how long it took for medical staff at the prison to arrive, but by the time they did, Walker was dead.

One of the officers providing medical assistance claimed that Walker's head "felt like Jello" and that "they must have kicked his ass."

According to Thomas, despite the inmate's death, he had a compound to run. He notified the warden and ordered all the officers into his office to find out what happened. The grand jury noted that Thomas failed to separate the officers and allowed them to collect their radios, even though they might have been used as weapons.

They then met and wrote their reports. The grand jury did not say whether there were any issues with those reports.

Evidence showed that there were at least 11 separate traumas to Walker, who was serving 20 years for a burglary and assault he committed in Palm Beach County. The autopsy said that the cartilage surrounding his windpipe was broken, all three sides of his larynx were injured and he suffered blunt-force trauma to his head, neck and torso.

The medical examiner told FDLE investigators that Walker's right eye was pushed into his eye socket, and that the pattern of his injuries could have been caused by strikes with radios or boots.

Cause of death was ruled to be asphyxiation and manner of death was homicide.

The grand jury concluded that the agency failed to deliver "reasonable, timely and appropriate medical treatment." It also noted that staff spent more time ministering to the needs of the two injured officers, who were treated and released from the hospital that same day.

The FDLE was summoned and agents arrived about 5 a.m. By then, however, key evidence had already been lost or tainted. No crime scene tape was used, no barricades were used, nor were there any attempts to preserve evidence, the grand jury report said.

When FDLE arrived, it cordoned off Walker's cell, and made it clear that no one was to enter until further notice. But when an agent returned a week later, he found evidence that items in the cell were tampered with and a laundry bag was left in the middle of the floor that was not there when FDLE sealed it on April 11.

The FDLE later analyzed four sets of boots, testing them for DNA. Three of the boots had so much DNA that the lab could not interpret the results. A fourth set of boots, belonging to Saintervil, were inexplicably clean, leading the grand jury to suspect that he had wiped them.

FDLE was further thwarted in its efforts to obtain copies of the prison's surveillance video. The dorm is an "open population" area that does not have working cameras. However, there were several cameras monitoring the outside of the compound. FDLE was given only a portion of the footage from those cameras. The DOC inspector assigned to the case failed to preserve footage from a camera that would have had a better view of the front of the dorm, the report noted.

"Way too many things point to a cover-up," said David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor. "They delay the call for medical, they meet together, then there's cross contamination and it's clear that one of those officers cleaned his boots off."

Without DNA and other physical evidence, however, it would have been impossible to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt, Weinstein said.

"The officers are going to say he attacked them and who is telling the jury different? A bunch of convicted felons."

The grand jury did, however, issue a number of recommendations, which the agency's secretary, Julie Jones, said she will "aggressively address." Among them: that medical kits and equipment to perform CPR be located in every dorm of the facility.

Former secretary Michael Crews fired nine officers following Walker's death, and all but one of them got their jobs back.

With the closing of the criminal investigation, Jones said DOC has opened an internal investigation into whether any department policies were violated. Four officers have been placed on desk duty, with no contact with inmates, pending the agency's probe.

The union representing the corrections officers has maintained that DOC punished the officers, and failed to hold those at the top of the prison's command staff responsible.

Jones said the cell checks conducted at the prison were not condoned by the agency, and ceased last year. Thomas, who was reassigned as captain at Okeechobee CI, retains his status and contact with inmates. He told the grand jury that the compliance checks are a good policy and "I am doing them where I am now."


Capt. David Thomas is now captain at Okeechobee CI

Sgt. Daniel Lynch is now sergeant at Charlotte CI - no inmate contact status

Acting Sgt. Mestely Saintervil resigned June 30, 2015

Acting Sgt. Edward Sinor remains a correctional officer at Charlotte - no inmate contact status

Lt. Tyler Triplett remains a lieutenant at Charlotte - no inmate contact

Officer Thomas Weidner remains a correctional officer at Charlotte - no inmate contact

Warden Tom Reid is still at Charlotte CI

Assistant Warden Lars Severson is now warden at Okeechobee CI

Assistant Warden Richard Johnson is now warden at Liberty CI



Fred Grimm: Florida still sticks juvenile inmates in the box


The torturous effects of solitary confinement was all the talk last week after a federal judge ordered the release of Albert Woodfox from the Louisiana State Prison.

Woodfox's 1972 murder conviction of a prison guard had been overturned and the judge doubted the 68-year-old prisoner could receive a fair retrial, citing, among other problems, "the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over 40 years in solitary confinement."

That seemed to elicit a collective gasp from across the country, the notion that a civilized society would abide prisoners locked away in some concrete and metal isolation box for years at a time.

It was not such shocking news, however, to Floridians. After all, we do it to children.

That's in part because Florida sends more juveniles to adult prisons than any other state. Paolo Annino, who heads the  Public Interest Law Center at the Florida State University College of Law, told me via email Friday, "Florida Department of Corrections incarcerates 100,873 inmates and of that number 20,705 were juveniles at the time of their criminal offense."

Annino added that Florida adult prisons "also have the youngest offenders, as young as 12 years old at the time of the offense, because unlike most other states, Florida has no minimum age for indictment. A 5-year-old could end up in Florida adult prison."

In 2009, I wrote about a 29-year-old prisoner named Ian Michael who had spent more than half his life in solitary confinement -15 years. That meant 24 hours a day in a small cell. No interaction with other inmates. Food was delivered through a slot in the door. Solitary prisoners got five hours of exercise a week in an elongated concrete cage so depressing that if Michael had been a dog or horse, animal rights protesters would have marched on the Department of Corrections.

Michael had been arrested in Tampa on an attempted-murder charge when he was just 13, convicted as an adult and sent off to serve out a life term in one of Florida's toughest adult lock-ups. It was a place where adolescent misbehavior gets you stuck in solitary.

Newspaper stories about Ian Michael (led by the Tampa Bay Times) generated enough outrage that prison officials finally ordered him back into the general prison population.

But not enough outrage to keep other juvenile prisoners from long stints in solitary.

In 2013, the state Senate criminal justice committee briefly flirted with a bill that would have curtailed the use of solitary confinement for juvenile prisoners. But the Florida Sheriffs Association complained that limiting solitary confinement for juvenile and mentally ill would drive up jail costs. Similarly, the state Department of Corrections warned that "it does not have the resources to comply with the provisions of the bill. It assesses that the bill's overall fiscal impact on its operations is indeterminate, but that it is likely to be significant."

The bill never got out of committee. That was the last serious legislative effort in Florida to keep kids out of the isolation cells. Apparently, it was deemed too costly to put a stop to an inhumane practice.

Jean Casella of  Solitary Watch, a national prison reform organization, said Friday that she knew of "real reform efforts elsewhere in the country that are focused on removing vulnerable populations like youth and people with mental illness from solitary altogether." She added, "None of these things is currently going on in Florida."

This despite findings issued by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warning, "The potential psychiatric consequences of prolonged solitary confinement are well recognized and include depression, anxiety and psychosis. Due to their developmental vulnerability, juvenile offenders are at particular risk of such adverse reactions."

Paolo Annino told me, "It is no longer in dispute that solitary confinement harms children. The role of the DOC is to protect juvenile inmates, not make them psychotic. Solitary confinement aggravates a juvenile's mental illness."

He noted that half of all prison suicides occur among prisoners in solitary. "The fastest way to stop prison suicide is to stop the routine practice of solitary confinement."

Amy Fettig, who heads up the ACLU's Stop Solitary Campaign, cited a  study  released just last month by the Vera Institute of Justice finding that while solitary confinement had been conceived as a way to separate dangerous inmates from the general prison population, isolation has become, instead, a punishment guards dispense for "disruptive behavior - such as talking back, being out of place, failure to obey an order, failing to report to work or school, or refusing to change housing units or cells."

She said use of solitary punishment by guards "has become so reflexive, with so very little oversight, that it has devolved into something cruel and inhumane and unnecessary."

Who knows how many juveniles are languishing in solitary in Florida prisons? "There's no obligation to report the numbers," Fettig said.

Casella said Solitary Watch has run into the same problem. "We've been unable find out from the Florida Department of Corrections how many people they even hold in segregation. But with the nation's third largest prison population and a strong record of abuse in its prisons, Florida definitely needs to take a hard look at its solitary confinement practices, and we don't see that happening."

Other states are rethinking solitary. In January, New York corrections officials promised that they would no longer put inmates age 21 and younger in solitary. This followed a harrowing series of stories about young inmates in solitary by the New York Times. The Times had found that more than 100 juveniles were being held in isolation cells in the Rikers Island jail alone.

In South Carolina, where prisoners had spent years in solitary for breaking prison rules, the maximum time in isolation has been reduced to 60 days.

Mississippi, not known as a leader in penal reform, has also instituted new limits on solitary.

But in Florida, nothing.

My colleague Julie Brown has spent the last year reporting on startling instances of inmate abuses carried out by rogue guards in the Florida prison system, including the suspicious and brutal deaths of prisoners who had been held in solitary confinement.

"Prolonged solitary confinement," as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warned, may have serious potential psychiatric consequences for juveniles. But in Florida, it can also get them killed.


Florida prison guard charged with gassing teen, lying about it

BY JULIE K. BROWN   July 28, 2015

An 18-year-old inmate - imprisoned on burglary charges - was repeatedly sprayed in the face with chemical agents by a corrections officer at Lake City Correctional Institution, who was arrested Tuesday.

The officer, Adrian Hill, is accused of concocting a lie to justify spraying Phillip Alderman Jr., a 5-foot-8 inmate serving a four-year term for burglary. Hill claimed that he sprayed the inmate because the prisoner refused to return to his cell, but the compound's security video showed that the inmate complied with the officer's orders and Hill sprayed him anyway.

Afterward, Hill grabbed Alderman by his shirt, dragged him several feet, then left him cringing on his hands and knees, the arrest affidavit said.

Hill surrendered to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office Tuesday. He has been fired from the agency.

The incident happened July 23. The investigation, by the Florida Department of Corrections' inspector general, is continuing. The inmate's condition has not been released.

"The Department of Corrections has zero tolerance for those who misuse the responsibility inherent to their positions as stewards of our state's inmates,'' DOC Secretary Julie Jones said in a news release.

In May, two corrections officers fabricated reports and cleaned up bloody evidence to cover up the assault of an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution, also in Lake City.

The officers, Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan, 37, and Officer Donald Dwight Sims Jr., 21, were arrested on charges that they beat a 41-year-old handcuffed inmate who had allegedly "disrespected" them. They left him in a bloody heap in his cell for "several hours" before he fell unconscious and was taken to the hospital, authorities said.

When questioned by investigators afterward, the officers claimed that inmate Shurick Lewis had injured himself by falling off his bunk.

Earlier this month, a corrections officer and a former prison guard were arrested for attacking an inmate at Union Correctional Institution, also in Central Florida. Officer Justin Clemons and former correctional officer Cody Gabbard were also charged with falsifying records and battery in that beating.

The arrests occurred as the agency has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of a record number of inmate deaths and a doubling in reports involving the use of force.


Florida governor orders more prison reforms

BY JULIE K. BROWN July 9, 2015

Two days after the release of a grand jury report assailing the Florida Department of Corrections in connection with an inmate's beating death, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday issued an executive order calling for an independent audit of the besieged agency.

The audit, to be conducted by the National Institute of Corrections and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, will focus on staffing and organization - and ways to improve safety, security and rehabilitation, Scott said.

It will allow the agency "to better identify what works and what doesn't work, and apply lessons learned across the state's entire correctional system,'' the governor said in a news release.

The order seeks to empower the agency to better address the needs of inmates with mentally ill inmates. It designates two state prisons - Lake Correctional Institution and Liberty Correctional, neither in South Florida - to be used as "prototypes" for the agency's reforms.

The move comes just two days after a grand jury issued a scathing rebuke of the agency for "numerous and disturbing deficiencies'' by DOC staff leading up to and following the April 2014 death of 45-year-old Matthew Walker at Charlotte Correctional Institution.

Calling Walker's death "tragic, senseless and avoidable,'' the panel said corrections officers beat Walker so severely that they crushed his larynx and broke several of his ribs, then tampered with evidence, making a proper investigation difficult. Walker 's death was attributed to asphyxiation, and it was ruled a homicide.

While it didn't issue an indictment, the Charlotte County grand jury said the actions of the officers were so abhorrent that it called into question whether the officers - and other DOC staff - were fit to serve the citizens of Florida.

Scott did not address the grand jury report.

The measures outlined by the governor on Thursday "expand" upon reforms already being implemented by Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, the governor said. He said the agency will continue to work to serve the mental health needs of its prison population, which, at 101,000, is the third largest in the nation.

The agency has been under fire for more than a year, accused by civil rights groups and others of fostering a culture in which corrections officers have been able to abuse, torture and medically neglect inmates at will. Last year, the agency recorded 345 inmate deaths, the highest number in its history. Reports involving use of force by staff have doubled over the past five years.

Prison reform advocates said Scott's proposals are commendable, but don't go far enough. Among other issues, the governor still hasn't addressed the need for independent oversight, they say.

"This system is deeply broken,'' said a statement by the Project on Accountable Justice, a Florida State University think tank that collects and analyzes data on criminal justice issues.

"Nothing short of structural change, ensuring ongoing oversight of a system that is its most dysfunctional in hidden places, will ensure the deep cultural change needed.''

Jones, in a statement, said the governor's directives show the state is committed to improving the agency.

"I applaud Governor Scott's leadership and look forward to continuing to work together to transform the Florida Department of Corrections,'' she said.


2 prison guards busted, 8 suspended in pill ring

BY CARLI TEPROFF   July 1, 2015

In the latest turmoil for the Florida prison system, two guards have been arrested - including a major - for their alleged role in a prescription pill ring. Eight other prison staffers were not arrested but were suspended with pay.

The Bradford County Sheriff's Office announced the arrests on Wednesday.

Maj. Charles Gregory Combs, 35, a Florida State Prison staff member known as Chicken Hawk, was fired Wednesday shortly after he was booked on felony charges of drug distribution and smuggling. Deputies zeroed in on him after an earlier bust, on June 11, of fellow Florida State Prison corrections officer Dylan Oral Hilliard, 25.

Hilliard, an auto racing enthusiast, was cuffed while tinkering with his race car. He allegedly sold pills to support the hobby, which apparently gave rise to the name of the investigation, Operation Checkered Flag.

The sheriff's office said it learned that Hilliard would buy large amounts of Oxycodone from people with legitimate prescriptions and then sell the pills on the black market to make money to support his hobby.

For months, the guard was under surveillance by detectives as he sold the drugs from his house and from the prison where he worked in Raiford, the sheriff's office said.

The six-year DOC employee was arrested after he purchased a "trafficking" amount of Oxycodone during a sting. According to the arrest report, an agent sold Hilliard 43 pills for $940. For that, he faces charges that include trafficking in opium or a derivative. He resigned from the department.

Combs was booked into Bradford County Jail Wednesday on $450,000 bond. In his 14-year history with the department, Combs had one written reprimand for conduct unbecoming in 2003. Hilliard had no such discipline on his record.

During the operation, about 80 people - at least eight of whom are Department of Corrections employees - were identified as buying and/or selling Oxycodone with Hilliard. The investigation of their alleged roles in the operation continues.

"The Department has zero tolerance for the actions taken by Mr. Hilliard and Mr. Combs and will continue to provide investigative assistance and fully cooperate with the requests of the BCSO to ensure that a thorough investigation is completed," said McKinley Lewis, communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections.

The arrest follows a year in which inmate deaths soared to new heights, dozens of corrections officers were fired, several were arrested for alleged brutal treatment of inmates, the head of the prison system retired and Florida lawmakers held a series of hearings on prison reform.

Although Florida State Prison, home of the state's Death Row, employed the two guards who were arrested, Lewis said he was aware of no evidence that the pills were being smuggled into the prison.

In a news release, Sheriff Gordon Smith praised the cooperation from different agencies, including the Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"Their desire to ferret out those people who do not maintain the highest of professional standards is in lockstep with the expectations here at the Bradford County Sheriff's Office."

Miami Herald  Florida Prisons

MAY 27, 2015

Florida pledges to protect inmates with mental illness


Inmates with mental illnesses who were once confined around the clock to a cell block filled with feces, rotten food and insects - and sometimes allegedly beaten, tortured and starved by staff - should be treated more humanely under a landmark lawsuit settlement reached this week between the Florida Department of Corrections and a statewide disability advocacy group.

The agreement could have far-reaching impact. It requires the state to overhaul the way it treats inmates with mental disorders at Dade Correctional Institution, which has the largest mental health facility in the state prison system.

Disability Rights of Florida brought the action following a series of stories last year in the Miami Herald about guards at Dade Correctional who allegedly used scalding showers and other sadistic forms of discipline to punish and humiliate inmates in the prison's psychiatric ward, or Transitional Care Unit.

The disability rights group found that the blistering-hot showers, coupled with other physical and mental abuse and a lack of adequate healthcare, were the norm at the institution in June 2012, when 50-year-old inmate Darren Rainey collapsed and died in a shower that had been cranked up to 180 degrees.

Witnesses said that Rainey, who was serving time on a drug charge, was forced into the specially rigged stall by corrections officers, who taunted him as he screamed in panic for nearly two hours until he died.

Other inmates complained that guards forced them to perform sex acts, had them fight each other for the staff's entertainment, terrorized them with threats and beatdowns and put laxatives and urine in their food. One inmate, Richard Mair, hanged himself after leaving a note detailing alleged atrocities at the hands of officers. Although the prison disciplined some guards for failing to conduct timely security checks the day of the hanging, the agency's inspector general did little to inquire into Mair's claims, citing the fact that he was dead and could no longer be questioned.

The advocacy group discovered evidence that officers often targeted those inmates in the unit who suffered from the most severe mental illnesses, and that the medical staff at the prison often failed to report the abuse.

"Mr. Rainey was not the only victim of the shower treatment. What we learned is that, to some extent, those same abuses were affecting others in the unit," said Peter Sleasman, of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, which brought the lawsuit for Disability Rights Florida.

Guards who worked in the TCU have been replaced by officers specially trained to handle inmates with mental illnesses, he said. In addition, under the negotiated agreement, experts have been brought in to monitor and evaluate the unit over the next several months. The DOC also has its own experts evaluating the facility and the two parties will come together by year's end to draw up additional reforms.

Sleasman said that his organization is evaluating other mental health treatment units in prisons around the state, and hopes the reforms implemented at Dade Correctional will be employed at the other facilities.

The agreement is unusual, Sleasman said, because the Department of Corrections cooperated with the advocates to come up with a plan in a timely manner.

The DOC has voluntarily instituted its own reforms, including the addition of an ombudsman to oversee the agency's mental health programs. At Dade Correctional, additional security cameras have been installed with audio, the facility's crumbling plumbing and air conditioning systems have been repaired and patients are now allowed to leave their cells for programs and treatment. Medical staffers are required to report any instances of abuse.

DOC spokesman McKinley Lewis said the agency is committed to ensuring proper care, treatment and security for prisoners who suffer from mental illness. Many reforms are already underway at the department's nine other TCU units around the state, he said.

"Through enhanced training opportunities for staff and the continued development of comprehensive solutions to issues posed by a growing population of mentally ill inmates, the department will continue to expand and enhance our mental health capabilities," Lewis said.

The agreement is a "work in progress," Sleasman said, noting that there are still a number of issues outside of the agreement that remain unresolved.

Some abuse cases such as Rainey's remain open three years after they happen, and the agency and law enforcement are taking too long to find out what led to the deaths and injuries involving other inmates in the prison system with mental illnesses, Sleasman said.

Among them is prisoner Rudolf Rowe, who suffered severe brain injuries during an unexplained incident at Union Correctional Institution in 2012 that resulted in guards being dismissed. A second inmate, Frank Smith, died at the same prison around the same time in another still-unexplained incident. Three years later, the cases are still pending.

"I don't know exactly what the inspector general is doing. How long does it take to investigate these cases?" Sleasman said.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently began a criminal inquiry into Rainey's death, as well as other alleged violations of the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment at Dade Correctional.


Miami Herald Politics

APRIL 29, 2015

Prison reform bill dies in wake of House, Senate feud

By Mary Ellen Klas  Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

A plan to increase oversight of the state prison system and impose new penalties on officers who injure inmates died in the Florida Senate on Wednesday, another casualty of the hostilities between the feuding chambers.

Working solo after the House abruptly adjourned the day before, the Florida Senate unanimously voted to reject a prison reform compromise bill that was passed last week by the Florida House.

"They changed it. They dumped it on our doorstep, and we're going to dump it back on theirs," said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, after the Senate vote.

The bill, SB 7020, was then added to the list of high-profile bills completed by the Senate but sent back to the now-empty House, which had abruptly left town Tuesday in protest over the impasse over budget talks and healthcare policy for the uninsured.

Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the Senate opposed a provision of the compromise bill that would limit the scope of a joint House and Senate select committee with authority to investigate the Florida Department of Corrections.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, who agreed to the compromise with Evers, said he was disappointed in the Senate's decision.

"It's frustrating," he said. "They worked really hard and so did we. We'll be back in August and start looking at this again."

Gardiner credited Evers for calling attention to the troubles plaguing the Department of Corrections, which has had an 109 inmates die in custody in the past year and is under investigation for several suspicious inmate deaths. He said Evers persuaded House leaders to take the issue seriously.

"To them it wasn't an issue," Gardiner said.

Evers used his committee to demand answers from the Department of Corrections about news stories in the Miami Herald and other news outlets about suspicious inmate deaths, allegations of cover-ups, along with claims by whistleblowers that the agency's chief inspector general suppressed criminal complaints and ignored inmate abuse.

He put DOC Secretary Julie Jones and her chief inspector general, Jeffery Beasley, under oath. He conducted surprise inspections of several prisons and he persuaded reluctant lawmakers that the agency had lost the ability to police itself.

Faced with opposition from both the House and the governor's office, Evers agreed to scale back his original plan to create an independent oversight board to monitor the agency, subpoena records and hold officials.

The compromise divided the state's prison system into four geographic regions, each with its own director. It created a new third-degree felony for employees who withhold water, food, and other essential services from inmates and authorized prison employees to anonymously report abuse to the inspector general.

But the proposal also removed several more rigorous provisions included in the Senate bill and depended on the Senate president and House speaker to follow up with the creation of a joint select committee to pursue prison reform.

Gardiner said he is prepared this summer to assign Senate staff, and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, to continue the investigations into the troubled agency.

"We will put our corrections committee on the road within a couple of weeks, and they'll do their own investigations," he said. "I can subpoena people. We're not done with that. It's unfortunate that the House did what they did."

Allison DeFoor, chairman of the prison reform advocate, the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University, said he was encouraged by Gardiner's decision.

"The very serious issues around Florida's prisons are now out in the open for all to see," he said. "They will be addressed in an adult way. The only question remaining open now is who will do the addressing."

George Mallinckrodt, a former prison mental health counselor, who has called attention to allegations of abuse at Dade Correctional Insitution, warned that the demise of the legislation "means business as usual for abusive guards and the administrators who cover for them."

"I believe the FL DOC is a powder keg waiting for the tiniest spark. When people have their dignity stripped from them and are dehumanized and disrespected, they will rebel," he said.


Scalding-shower death in Dade prison prompts federal probe

BY JULIE K. BROWN  May 19, 2015

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has begun a criminal investigation into the death of Darren Rainey, the 50-year-old inmate who was locked in a shower that had been converted into a scalding torture chamber at Dade Correctional Institution.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of Florida also are questioning witnesses in connection with alleged atrocities in the prison's mental health ward, including a practice of starving inmates so severely that they would snap off sprinkler-heads, flooding their cells and violating fire codes, so they would be arrested and sent to the county jail, where they would be fed.

Rainey's death nearly three years ago, along with subsequent stories about rampant inmate abuse as well as a record number of deaths in Florida 's prisons, has spawned demands for an overhaul of the Florida Department of Corrections. The agency's inspector general, Jeffery Beasley, has been accused of trying to whitewash suspicious deaths, medical neglect cases and corruption. He himself is the subject of a state investigation after four of his subordinates stated under oath this year that he asked them to sideline cases that would give the agency "a black eye.''

For more than a year, the Miami Herald has investigated claims, interviewed witnesses and reviewed hundreds of records from current and former inmates and staff at Dade Correctional, located on the edge of the Everglades south of Homestead. Alleged abuses included sexual assaults by officers against inmates, racially motivated beatings and the withholding of food from inmates in one wing of the mental health ward.

Inmates nicknamed a group of guards "the Diet Shift'' because members routinely gave certain inmates empty food trays. Prisoners interviewed by the Herald described pervasive physical and mental abuse by officers, who threatened them with further abuse if they filed complaints.

Inmates also reported that guards would shut off their water and take away their toilet paper so they had no means to clean themselves.

One inmate, Richard Mair, committed suicide in September 2013 by hanging himself, leaving a note filled with detailed stories of alleged corruption and assaults by officers. Five days before his death, the inmate, who had been serving a life sentence, sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, that contained many of the same allegations. Miguel's office forwarded it to Beasley, who assigned an inspector to investigate, records show.

But in a single-page report submitted to Miguel one month after Mair's suicide, the investigator determined that the issues Mair raised had no merit, that he failed to identify witnesses and that he was, in any event, "unavailable for a follow-up interview'' - because, the report noted, he was dead.

Justice Department officials, in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, acknowledged the federal investigation and said they also were examining whether prison officials abused their positions of authority and whether there was a pattern and practice of civil rights violations in the prison.

Harriet Krzykowski, a former counselor at the prison, said that she suspected corrections officers were starving and abusing inmates. She said that officers told her if she didn't keep quiet, she might find herself alone in a dorm full of violent inmates with no officers to protect her. She said corrections officers described to her how they would fabricate reports to make it appear that inmates who were beaten or abused had instigated the trouble.

"I would have conversations with officers and I would tell them you don't have to be disrespectful or nasty, and they would say, 'Oh yeah, they are a piece of garbage. Do you know what their crime is?'" said Krzykowski, who has a degree in psychology and now counsels abused children in another state.

Rainey, who was sentenced to a two-year term for cocaine possession, suffered from severe schizophrenia and had been in prison for four months when, on June 23, 2012, he was locked in a shower chamber specially rigged to deliver 180-degree water through a hose from a neighboring janitorial closet. Although inmates could avoid the stream, the blistering water would lap at their feet and fill the enclosed chamber with steam, making the air difficult to breathe. Rainey was placed in the shower after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up.

Prisoners said that corrections officers Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clarke and others on the shift that night ridiculed Rainey as he kicked the locked door and begged to be let out. They left him there for between 1 1/2 and two hours, according to various staff reports. At some point he collapsed, falling face-up onto the drain.

Afterward, inmates wrote letters to the governor, the prison system's inspector general, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami-Dade police, but nothing was done.

Finally, last year, Harold Hempstead, a convicted burglar, contacted the Herald, and the newspaper began gathering records to support his story. Hempstead kept journals, now in the hands of investigators, detailing the abuse of inmates at Dade Correctional, including two inmates who weren't fed and later died and several who were placed in the scalding shower before Rainey but survived. Hempstead said that he heard Rainey's dying screams, and that the inmate's lifeless body was carried directly past his cell.

Corrections officers ordered one inmate to clean up the shower, including chunks of Rainey's skin that had separated from his body, according to the inmate, Mark Joiner. He placed them in a shoe, which was eventually tossed in the trash.

In an interview with the Herald last year, Joiner said he, too, heard Rainey screaming as steam filled the chamber that night and also heard the guards taunting Rainey, asking "How do you like your shower?"

It wasn't until after the Herald published the story that the case was revived by Miami-Dade police, which recently finished its investigation and turned over findings to State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle.

Although the Dade Medical Examiner's Office has yet to release an autopsy, a lawsuit filed in November by Rainey's family said that he was burned over 90 percent of his body. Julie Jones, secretary of the Department of Corrections, recently sent a letter urging the medical examiner to move things along. Jones replaced Mike Crews, whose administration came under scrutiny as a result of Rainey's death and the suspicious deaths of others.

Dade's warden and deputy warden were induced to leave their positions in the wake of the Herald's reporting.

Thompson left the Department of Corrections to work as a guard in the federal prison system, and Clarke is now a police officer in Miami Gardens.

The federal civil rights suit filed by Rainey's family alleges that the Department of Corrections and Corizon, the company responsible for the prison's healthcare at the time of Rainey's death, not only knew inmates with mental illnesses were being abused in the prison, but allowed staffers to cover up the abuse.

McKinley Lewis, spokesman for the DOC, said that the department has instituted a number of safeguards to prevent future occurrences, including new surveillance cameras at Dade Correctional and the appointment of an assistant warden to oversee the prison's mental health ward, known as the Transitional Care Unit.

The department also has added training for corrections officers, and created a mental health ombudsman position.

Lewis said that the department "has worked collaboratively with the MDPD, the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office and the state attorney's office" and "welcomes the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Department of Justice."

Several groups, including Disability Rights of Florida and the American Civil Liberties Union, had called on the U.S. attorney general last year to investigate after it appeared that local and state investigations weren't moving ahead.

Although the DOC has worked to improve conditions, more needs to be done, said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

"There must be a change in the culture in Florida prisons," he said. "But that is not going to happen until officials are routinely held accountable for the brutality that too often characterizes our state prison system.''


State Politics

Gov. Rick Scott orders prison reforms similar to those proposed by lawmakers


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau 

After months of silence as Florida 's prison system came under fierce legislative criticism, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday issued an executive order requiring the head of Florida Department of Corrections to make several changes to the troubled agency that she already had the power to do.

"The department's number one focus is the safety of Florida's correctional officers, communities and the inmates in state custody and supervision," Scott said in a statement late Friday in announcing  the order.

The governor's action directs DOC Secretary Julie Jones to implement many of the changes suggested by the Legislature as part of a watered-down prison reform plan agreed to by the House and Senate before the session melted down in disarray.

The bill became a casualty of the end of session impasse over healthcare funding when the Senate, which had led the charge for reforming the agency, backed off its agreement to abandon an independent oversight commission that was opposed by Jones and the House.

After the bill died, Senate President Andy Gardiner announced the Senate would create its own select committee, led by Sen. Greg Evers, to investigate the agency and hold officials accountable for inmate abuse, staff cover-ups and organizational inefficiencies that have plagued the agency for years.

Evers, R-Baker, said Friday he was encouraged by Scott's order, but said the Senate will continue to convene its select committee.

"I still believe we have to have oversight," said Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "Eighty-five percent of what they announced today they could have done without an executive order - and without the bill."

The changes proposed by Scott, and initiated by Jones, focus on tightening regulations relating to the use of force, protecting employees who report wrongdoing from retaliation, and improving the tracking of chemical agents used to pepper spray disruptive inmates.

The agency will also require that each employee who either applies physical force, or was responsible for the decision to apply physical force, to sign a report under oath within one day of the incident.

Inspectors who investigate claims of sexual abuse also will be required to have specialized training and the agency will be divided into four regions, instead of three.

"The Florida Department of Corrections is committed to progress and reform through data-driven initiatives and actions," Jones said in a statement. "Looking forward, it is critically important that this department continues in our efforts to be accountable to the people of Florida , our employees and the hundreds of thousands of inmates and offenders under our custody and supervision."

The changes announced Friday leave unchecked many of the internal problems relating to contraband smuggling, intimidation tactics used to quiet complaints by inmates and other prison officials, and by prison officials that have drawn federal and state investigations.

For example, the agency's inmate grievance procedures have been so flawed that Evers and other members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee had concluded that problems with the leadership of the agency's inspector general's office made it impossible for DOC to police itself. Also problematic was the medical evaluation offered by the for-profit healthcare providers.

The Senate proposed creating an independent oversight committee to provide an independent review of allegations and patterns. It also wanted to give the families of inmates the power to conduct an independent medical evaluation when an inmate is injured or becomes ill in prison.

None of those changes, nor any of the House-initiated proposals aimed at reforming the agency's Inspector General's Office, are included in the  governor's executive order.


FDLE arrests two Department of Corrections officers for inmate abuse

Two guards at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City have been charged in connection with the brutal beating of an inmate, which they allegedly tried to cover up.

By Mary Ellen Klas on Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents arrested Correctional Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan, 37, and Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims, Jr., 21, on charges of aggravated battery and failure to report. Jernigan is also charged with tampering with evidence. The investigation, the latest of several in the Florida prison system involving alleged brutality, began at the request of the Department of Corrections with investigative assistance from the department's Office of Inspector General.

The investigation determined that Jernigan and Sims beat inmate Shurick Lewis, 41, at Columbia Correctional on Feb. 11, 2015, while he was being moved from a holding cell to a confinement cell. Prior to the battery, Jernigan and Sims ordered other inmates to clear the area and proceeded to a small area with no video surveillance.

After the assault, witnesses say Lewis was bleeding from his nose and mouth and his eye was swollen. He was seen by a prison nurse and sent back to his cell. Several hours later, he was found unresponsive by officers on the next shift and Lewis was transported to Shands Hospital , where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures.

Sims told agents Lewis fell from his bunk while Jernigan said he used force after the inmate lunged at him. After the assault, Jernigan instructed other inmates to clean up the blood, put a new mattress on the bunk and throw away bloody clothes.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately inform Lewis' mother, Carolyn Dawson, 63, of the attack or the details of her son's injuries.

"The Florida Department of Corrections has absolutely no tolerance for the behavior and actions taken by these individuals. Effective today, May 5, 2015, the employment of Correctional Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims has been terminated," said DOC SecretaryJulie Jones. "We will continue to take quick and decisive actions against those involved in abuse, neglect or misconduct of any kind and will cooperate fully with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney to ensure that any employee engaged in this behavior is held accountable."

Jernigan turned himself in to the Columbia County Jail yesterday and Sims was arrested, with assistance from the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office, Wednesday night in Live Oak and booked into the Suwannee County Jail. The case will be prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office in the Fifth Judicial Circuit.

Columbia is considered one of the state's more violent prisons, with higher-than-average use of reports reports filed by staff. Over the past several years, one inmate was strangled, two were shot and several have killed themselves or overdosed on drugs. A captain was fired last year for failing to report criminal activity. Inmates have filed numerous federal lawsuits alleging that corrections officers routinely solicit violent inmates to harm other inmates.

In the most recent fatality, inmate Myong Sun Ji died in January under still unexplained circumstances.

Shurick's record shows he has been incarcerated since 1991 and was serving a 33-year sentence. He had been convicted of aggravated assault and burglary, as well as aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer in Miami-Dade County in 1994.

During his 24 years, he has racked up 80 disciplinary actions, most of them nonviolent.


Prison reform compromise among the dead bills on session floor

Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 7:44pm

By Mary Ellen Klas and Michael Auslen

As the session melted down on Tuesday, Senate President Andy Gardiner announced that the prison reform compromise -- which featured the Senate agreeing to withdraw from its position for an independent oversight board -- was now a casualty of the impasse.

"The last three days of session, we should be negotiating that as a partner," Gardiner told the chamber after the House had adjourned three days early. Of the prison reform bill that was passed by the House last week, he said: "That bill's not going to make it."

Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was satisfied to drop the compromise bill, which he had worked on with his counterpart in the House, Rep. Carolos Trujillo. The Senate had agreed to remove many of the provisions it had sought in exchange for some reforms but the additional oversight depended on the Senate president and House speaker to follow up with the creation of a joint select committee to pursue prison reform.

"There will not be a reform bill coming out," Evers told the Herald/Times. "But I'm sure that the Senate president will set up a committee for the oversight of the Department of Corrections."

He said that many of the changes sought by the bill can be made by rule and at the direction of the DOC secretary. "So the reforms, yes, will be made."

Gardiner told reporters that he is prepared to assign Senate staff, and the Senate Criminal Justice Committe, to continue the investigations into the troubled agency.

 "If it doesn't pass, then we will put our corrections committee on the road within a couple of weeks, and they'll do their own investigations," he said. "I can subpoena people. We're not done with that. It's unfortunate that the House did what they did."

Evers noted that the issue could emerge as part of a special session on the budget. 

"Am I going to reevaluate it? No," he said. "Because it's not going to do anything within the bill that can't be done by rule. I feel reasonably sure that the Senate president, that we will set up our own committee and we will direct it to take care of the oversight of the Department of Corrections." 


Legislators take ownership of prison reform with new plan





The investigative staff at the Department of Corrections would face an overhaul, officers who injure inmates could be subject to felonies, and the state would start a pilot project to put body cameras on prison guards, under a prison reform bill unanimously approved Friday by the Florida House.

The proposal is the first part of a bi-partisan agreement between the House and Senate to address questions of inmate abuse, allegations of staff cover-ups and evidence of organizational troubles that have been festering in the state's prison system for years. The agency and its staff are also under investigation by both state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The second piece of the agreement puts oversight of the agency squarely in the lap of the Legislature, which has promised to create a joint committee to police DOC.

"Our ultimate goal is to bring true reform to the Department of Corrections and true transparency," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who negotiated the compromise with Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. "How do we solve, how do we limit the amount of inmates who are dying in custody?"

The measure now must go to the Senate for final approval.

Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, began investigating DOC in January in the wake of several reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations about suspicious inmate deaths, allegations of  cover-ups, and claims by whistle blowers that the agency's chief inspector general suppressed criminal complaints and ignored inmate abuse.

The Herald reported that Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old with severe mental illnesses, had collapsed and died in a 180-degree shower at Dade Correctional that witnesses said had been rigged by corrections officers to punish and control unruly prisoners. Neither the DOC's inspector general nor Miami-Dade police had investigated Rainey's death as possible foul play or negligence, creating the appearance of a cover-up.

Shortly thereafter, four investigators with DOC's inspector general's office filed a lawsuit claiming that their boss, Jeffery Beasley, had pressured them to cover up the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of another inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, who died after he was repeatedly sprayed with chemicals at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010.

Both the Rainey and Aparo cases have since been reopened for investigation by state law enforcement officials.

Evers and Trujillo said the second goal of their reform plan is to create a select committee of legislators to scrutinize the performance of DOC, review treatment of inmates, investigate grievance trends and monitor implementation of legislation. The committee would be created by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner and begin work in the fall.

"It will start changing the culture by bringing information to light," Trujillo told the House before it voted 114-0 for the amendment to SB 7020. "When individuals in some of these facilities realize it's murder and injure people in captivity, the message we send will start changing this culture."

Advocates commended the measure as a good step, long overdue.

"People who are observed perform better than those who are not," said Allison DeFoor, chairman of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University. "That is why we build stadiums."

The bill divides the state's prison system into four geographic regions, each with its own director. It creates a new third-degree felony for employees who withhold water, food and other essential services from inmates and authorizes prison employees to anonymously report abuse to the inspector general.

The compromise between the House and Senate removes several more rigorous provisions included in the Senate bill. For example, prisons must ensure each facility maintain a "retaliation free" environment but does not require DOC to establish a policy to protect employees who report wrongdoing from retaliation.

Faced with opposition from Gov. Rick Scott's administration, the proposals also no longer includes elements that would have taken authority over the agency away from the governor.

Evers and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, originally proposed creating an independent oversight commission that would have the ability to investigate allegations of wrongdoing at the state's largest agency. The Senate plan also would have required the DOC secretary to be appointed by a panel of legislators, with confirmation by the governor.

The compromise leaves the accountability of the agency and DOC Secretary Julie Jones to the governor, but Evers and Trujillo said the select committee will have the special authority to subpoena witnesses and put people under oath to correct what lawmakers believe is DOC's inability to police itself.

"We're laying the foundation for the department to effectively do the job that they're required to do," Evers said.

Although Scott has remained silent on the issues facing DOC, Evers said he is confident the governor will sign the bill into law.

The first issue to be addressed by the legislature's committee will be oversight of the inspector general's office, Trujillo said. The bill requires that the entire staff, and the nearly 160 investigative positions working in the division, to no longer be protected by the state's career service system and fired at will.

That provision worries some current and former DOC staff, including those who have testified before legislative committees about allegations of cover-up and attempts by DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley to suppress investigations into claims of prison wrongdoing.

"I am fearful of making inspectors at will employees," wrote Christina Bullins, a former DOC probations officer who has sought whistleblower protection in a letter to Rep. Charles McBurney. "I believe that the at-will administrators already have too much control over the inspectors and the ones who will be brave enough to do the right thing when it comes to wrongdoing involving administrators will be the first to be fired."

Trujillo and Evers said their goal is not to allow the agency to target whistleblowers but instead hold more administrators within the department accountable.

"We will not look at individual cases," Trujillo explained. "But, if we see there's a large amount of complaints at a certain facility - whether it's medically related, use of force, whether it's contraband - it's our responsibility to find out why that's happening at a facility and to correct that across the entire board."

Under the bill, inmates with sentences of less than 24 months can be housed in the county jail if the jail has a contract with DOC.

The measure also creates a pilot program to require corrections officers at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford to wear body cameras and, Trujillo said, lawmakers hope to find the money to "expand it throughout the system."


naked politics / Miami Herald

DOC scrubs testimony from prison whistle-blower for allegedly violating HIPAA

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas on Sunday, Apr. 19, 2015

The Department of Corrections concluded that the name of an inmate should be erased from the video testimony of an whistle-blower at a Senate committee because of federal HIPAA privacy laws, an agency spokesman told the Herald/Times.

Doug Glisson, an inspector with the DOC's Office of Inspector General, testified under oath at the March 10 meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that the agency covered up potentially negligent medical care, criminal activity and sabotaged investigations to protect high ranking officials within the organization.

Among the examples Glisson cited was the case of inmate Quintin Foust, whose death was listed as "suspicious" by the medical examiner. Glisson said Foust was "undergoing medical care" at Jefferson Correctional Institution but did not provide any details about his medical condition or ailments. He said Foust "started having seizures" and "wound up dying."  

Glisson said he and his investigator believed that a criminal investigation should have been conducted of Foust's death but was told by "upper management at the Office of Inspector General to close that criminal case" because of a "conversation he had had with the state attorney's office and that we would run that case administratively." 

Foust's cause of death is now listed as "natural" on the DOC web site. 

Some time after the Senate hearing, DOC concluded that Glisson's testimony violated the federal HIPAA privacy rule, which protects individuals from disclosure of identifiable health information, said McKinley Lewis, DOC spokesman.  

Lewis then provided the time codes from the video to The Florida Channel and asked them to scrub the name references from the audio. 

"The department notified The Florida Channel that some of the information released violated federal HIPAA law," Lewis said. "We have a responsibility to protect the personal health information of all inmates and staff." 

Glisson has been under fire at the agency since he sought and was denied whistle-blower protection from Gov. Rick Scott's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel. Glisson attempted to alert Miguel of cover-ups within the Office of the Inspector General but she denied him whistle-blower protection. 

Lewis told the Herald/Times that Glisson was was stripped of his investigative post in February. He now has no access to DOC records and is also being investigated for violating agency rules, possibly including the alleged HIPAA violation. 

Glisson was one of four current and former DOC inspectors who testified under oath before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. A transcript follows of his testimony -- which begins at 1:02:34 through 1:09.15 -- after Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the committee, swears him in.

Glisson: "Thank you for the opportunity to come here. I'm going to present three cases to you that I have personal knowledge of in the Inspector General's office at the Florida Department of Corrections. 

"In November of 2012, there was an inmate named (erased: Quintin Foust) at Jefferson Correctional Institute. (Erased: Inmate Foust) was undergoing medical care at the facility for ongoing medical issues. (Erased: Inmate Foust) started having trouble in November where he sought medical help and in fact started having seizures. (Erased: Inmate Faust) wound up dying in November 2012 at that facility. 

"We started an investigation into that case. What we found were multiple violations by the medical staff there at Jefferson CI. We waited on the autopsy that came back from the medical examiner that listed the cause of death as suspicious. We opened a criminal case looking into those allegations. Our investigator was proceeding with that investigation. I received a phone call from the upper management at the Office of Inspector General to close that criminal case based on a conversation he had had with the state attorney's office and that we would run that case administratively. 

"I just would argue that -- well, I did have my investigator put that in her report because it was a significant factor that we would close that criminal case simply based on a conversation and not look into those criminal charges. 

"I have a second case I want to mention to you. In 2010, there was a physician that was hired at the Florida Department of Corrections. I will briefly give you the background. A physician can be hired with a temporary certificate and practice in the area of critical need. That is a known fact. However, if you're hiring someone, particularly out of state, who has a revoked, suspended, voluntarily relinquished license, they're automatically not allowed to practice in the State of Florida. 

"There was a physician at the Florida Department of Corrections that hired this physician, knowing that the other physician from out of state had a revoked license. 

"Our investigators looked into the case administratively, sustained all the medical staff there that were involved in the hiring of this physician. The case sat there from 2010 to 2012 with no action being done. In 2012, the IGs office asked them to look at that again. 

"The original case was sustained on the physician that hired the other physician knowing that his license had been revoked. 

"It was reviewed by our legal, our medical and our inspector general's office. Ultimately got assigned as a case as special interest and there were no sustained charges on the physician -- even though he admitted in the investigation he knew when he hired the other physician he had a revoked license. 

"The third and last case I'll present to you is a case where we had allegations on a training center in a county. There were allegations of problems -- I'm speaking very generically because this is an open case so I'm speaking very generically. There were problems reported at this academy. Our investigator started looking into that case. The challenge he found was, it appeared from testimony that students in that class were giving, people high up in the chain -- at central office -- knew what was going on. At least that was the allegation.

"So, I said to him, send an email to the person -- the high ranking official. Let's give him three questions and if he can answer those questions I'm satisfied they're not involved. He answered two of them. I said, let's list him as a subject. But I told my investigator we're going to have problems because this was a high ranking official at DC. 

"Two days later, we were called to the Office of Inspector General. We were warned that the person we had named as a subject had a Capitol connection with this individual. Of course that had a very chilling effect on my investigator and I was the supervisor. There was a clear message there that there was a Capitol connection.  It just  had a chilling effect. 

"Two days later, I received a call from upper management at the Inspector General's office that everything we needed to get, or obtain, any information, we needed to go through the very person that had been named as a subject. And again, inspectors/investigators are supposed to have unfettered access to documentation, to talk to who we want. Now we are being told specifically we go through this person who's been named as a subject. We thought it was very inappropriate. 

"I also commented to our upper management, whatever the outcome of our investigation is, it will have to go through FDLE because they have oversight of the training academies. Three or four days later, I get a call from our upper management saying the person had gone over the FDLE and talked to them and basically got a slap on the wrist. In other words, FDLE wasn't going to look at it. That's what we were being told.  

"Those are just three examples. We have more but I just wanted to give you kind of a pattern of my personal experience in the IGs office." 

Sen. Jeff Brandes , R-St. Petersburg, asked about the physician practicing without a license. "Was that under the current health care provider or was that under the state -- when the state was in control of health care?"

Glisson answered: "It was the state."


Private prison vendors could face new scrutiny





Looming in the background in the legislative debate over prison reform is a question that could come into new focus: How productive was the move to privatize prisons and inmate health care and how much farther should it go?

Florida legislative leaders last week tentatively agreed to the creation of a joint legislative oversight board with the power to investigate and monitor the performance of Florida's troubled Department of Corrections. It's goal is to secure the safety of inmates in the face of mounting reports of suspicious inmate deaths, excessive use of force and allegations of cover-ups at the agency that houses more than 101,000 prisoners, said sponsors of the measure, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

But the legislative panel could also open the door to an evaluation of the recent shift in priorities that has led the state to open seven private prisons, contract out services for 21 inmate work camps, and shift mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment and inmate health care to private vendors.

"We are responsible for supervising every single person who is incarcerated in the State of Florida," said Trujillo, sponsor of the House bill. "Our intention isn't to privatize more facilities," said Trujillo. "It is to look at inmate safety and some of the organizational problems that have led to the lack of inmate safety."

The call to action was prompted by a  series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations that showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored, and internal controls were inconsistent.

Audits conducted by the state's Correctional Medical Authority also found problems with inadequate medical care, nursing and staffing shortages, and hundreds of pending lawsuits claiming inadequate medical care.

Last year, 346 inmates died in Florida prisons - 176 of them listed with no immediate cause of death. It was the highest number on record, even though the number of inmates in Florida prisons has declined.

"There are a lot of issues with the quality of care and the lack of quality of care and we need to address that," Trujillo said. "Once we make headway on inmate safety we can focus on other issues."

Under the gun are two private companies that took over healthcare for the state's 101,000 inmates in 2013. Wexford Health Services is being paid $48 million a year until Dec. 20, 2017 to provide health services to about 15,000 inmates at nine prisons in South Florida and Corizon Health, which provides healthcare to 74,000 inmates in North and Central Florida, receives $229 million per year until June 30, 2018. Both companies are required to provide medical care to inmates for 7 percent less than it cost the state in 2010 but both have already sought and received increases in the terms of their original agreement.

After visiting prisons in the Panhandle and hearing reports of inadequate medical care and nursing shortages, Evers ordered Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones to renegotiate the contracts with the private prison providers to demand higher standards of care and hold them accountable for deaths and injuries.

In a report entitled the "First Year Scope of Work," published by the department on March 31, Jones indicated that she is in the process of renegotiating the health insurance contracts but won't have new contracts in place until January 2016.

"We need to have policies in place that hold our vendors accountable," she wrote.

Evers now believes that if there is a reduction in the number of "unnatural" deaths at state-run prisons, while the numbers don't change at privately run facilities, "this could actually reduce the number of privates" or at least require changes in existing private contracts.

The move to privatize medical care in Florida prisons was not done in open committee hearings but quietly inserted into budget language during the governor's first term. The effort was challenged in court but ultimately was upheld and the contracts were allowed. Jones has subsequently criticized the contracts as too lenient for the vendors.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, said she blames Florida's weak contracts with the healthcare companies on the access their high-profile lobbyists have had to the governor and key lawmakers. Bill Rubin, the lobbyist at the time for Wexford, worked for Scott when he was head of the hospital giant HCA, and Brian Ballard, lobbyist for Corizon, was head of Scott's political finance committee.

"If we get hauled back into federal court because of inmate violations based on healthcare, I place the blame squarely on Corizon and Wexford," said Edwards who counted 1,092 malpractice lawsuits that have been settled across the country against Wexford and another 600 for Corizon. "We are giving these individuals - lobbyists - access and they have never once come and testified to defend themselves."

Attempts to reach Rubin and Ballard to discuss the issue were unsuccessful.

In 2011 and 2012, Scott and legislative leaders also tried twice to privatize 27 prisons and work camps in 18 South Florida counties. They were stymied by a lawsuit and a vote against the plan in the state Senate, but several legislators remain committed to more prison privatization.

In 2013, the state closed or consolidated 19 prisons and work camps while it completed new work camps and opened privately run Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa County and Graceville Correctional in Jackson County. The state has also authorized 21 work-release centers operated by private providers to serve minimum-security inmates who are being trained to be released back into the community.

A provision of the proposed prison reform by Evers and Trujillo could open the door to more private prison contracts by allowing the state to transfer as many as one third of the inmates in the state prison system to county jails.

Under the current system, anyone sentenced for more than a year and a month serves in the Florida Department of Corrections. Under the bill, judges could sentence people to the county jail for up to 24 months under a pilot program. The counties could then contract with private providers to offer those services.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri said the Florida Sheriff's Association supports the idea as an attempt to give counties with available jail beds more options while allowing prisoners to stay closer to home. But he hopes it does not become an opportunity to expand prison privatization.

"The trend in Florida is actually to go in the opposite direction," he said, noting that Hernando County used to contract with private prison vendor Corrections Corporation of America, but backed out.

"The experience with county jails does not work," he said. "There are certain things that are a government function and the care and custody of inmates is something the government should do, the sheriff should do. It's not a profit-motivated activity and when you inject profit into that, you have problems."

He said the Hernando jail "wasn't kept up" and the company "cut corners."

Evers said he hopes that with more monitoring, and better oversight from the legislative panel, private vendors will face the same scrutiny as the state-run prisons and legislators can make better-informed decisions.

"If the numbers don't match up, there may be less demand to shift to the privates," he said.


Florida Prisons

Florida prison system whistle-blowers hit with investigations


Quintin Foust was three years into a five-year term for felony drunken driving when he died at Jefferson Correctional Institution in 2012.

Though the 52-year-old prisoner's death was initially labeled "suspicious" by the medical examiner, Foust's family would never learn the full details of how he died and why because, an investigator testified last month, the case was closed by the Florida Department of Corrections before inspectors could dig into what happened.

Absent a full investigation, his death was ruled as being from natural causes - even though investigators had strong suspicions that he died of medical negligence.

Foust's case was among a handful of possible criminal cases that four sworn law enforcement officers testified were shut down by their boss, Jeffery Beasley, the Department of Corrections' inspector general.

One month after those officers - three of them current DOC inspectors and the fourth now a sheriff - alleged under oath that Beasley impeded their cases, at least three of them have not been interviewed by anyone looking into the matters, according to the attorney for the three.

The inspectors themselves, who risked their careers by going public, now face intense scrutiny.

The Miami Herald has learned that two of the DOC inspectors who testified last month before state lawmakers - Doug Glisson and John Ulm - have been stripped of their investigative posts and slapped with a pile of internal affairs complaints.

A third inspector, David Clark, who did not testify but publicly alleged Beasley tried to sabotage cases, has also been transferred, DOC officials confirmed Thursday. They are among nine inspectors currently under investigation, according to department spokesman McKinley Lewis.

Glisson, a supervisor who has a 20-year career in law enforcement, had a spotless history with the agency, according to his attorney, Steven Andrews. All three have been moved to DOC headquarters in Tallahassee and assigned to offices with no access to DOC records. For the most part, Andrews said, they've been given busy work to pass the time.

"This is the clearest case of retaliation I've seen in my 37 years of practicing law,'' said Andrews, who represents Ulm , Clark and Glisson.

Those three and two other DOC investigators - Aubrey Land and James Padgett - unsuccessfully sued Beasley and the agency last year after Gov. Rick Scott's inspector general, Melinda Miguel, refused to give them whistle-blower protection that would have shielded them from administrative consequences. They claimed that Beasley placed them under a bogus internal affairs probe last February to punish them for exposing possible criminal wrongdoing in the agency, including the full details behind the gassing death of Randall Jordan-Aparo, a 27-year-old inmate who died at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010.

The controversy comes as the Legislature considers an overhaul of the department, including a possible new oversight committee that would review agency cases.

Ulm, who has been on the front lines of investigations involving inmate deaths, drug smuggling by staff and medical negligence for years, testified last month that the "atrocities" and corruption within the agency were so systemic and widespread that the department is no longer capable of policing itself.

State lawmakers began hearings in January following a series of reports by the Herald and other media about suspicious inmate deaths, abuse and criminal misconduct in the state's prisons.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating possible civil rights violations, and has made a series of arrests of corrections officers accused of brutalizing inmates or threatening their lives.

Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the senate's Criminal Justice Committee, questioned why the inspectors have been transferred instead of being interviewed about the cases they allege were swept under the rug by the agency.

"Maybe their concerns should be looked into before they were taken off their duties,'' Evers said. "We're paying investigators to do investigations, not have them sitting in an office apparently doing nothing.''

John Tupps, a spokesman for the governor, said late Friday that there are several active and open investigations in connection with the inspectors' testimony. He did not say if the investigations concern Beasley.

Beasley, who took over as inspector general in 2011, declined to comment. As the agency's chief law enforcement officer, Beasley's mission is to "protect and promote public integrity and accountability" in a system that houses 101,000 inmates. It is the largest agency in the state, with a $2.3 billion budget, and the second-largest prison system in the nation.

Corrections Secretary Julie Jones has publicly dismissed the inspectors' concerns, saying they were complaints from "disgruntled'' employees who wanted to be cops. All of them are sworn law enforcement officers.

DOC spokesman McKinley Lewis said that Glisson, Clark and Ulm , in their new assigned roles, are reviewing policies and procedures to determine whether the agency has the best practices in place.

"The tasks assigned to these employees are critically important to the operations of the Office of the Inspector General,'' Lewis said in a statement.

By state law, DOC officials are not permitted to say why the inspectors are under investigation, but Lewis said the probes have nothing to do with them testifying against their boss.

Lewis pointed out that all three were reassigned on Feb. 23, well before March 10, when the inspectors testified before lawmakers.

But Andrews contends that the agency - and Beasley in particular -new that the inspectors planned to testify well before they were actually called before the Criminal Justice Committee. All three of them had previously made allegations against Beasley.

Glisson declined to comment and the Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Ulm and Clark.

The current inspectors were joined at the hearing by Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison, a former inspector. He testified that, when he was with the DOC, officials from Beasley's office prevented him from taking evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the state attorney to review for possible criminal prosecution.

"We did have a criminal element,'' Harrison testified. "We weren't allowed to take that information back to the prosecutor.''

He acknowledged that he could not recall who specifically told him to shelve the evidence, though it was clear to him it came from the inspector general.


Legislators reach compromise on prison reform





A panel of legislators would be empowered to investigate and subpoena staff at the Department of Corrections in an effort to provide aggressive oversight and demand reform at the troubled agency, under a compromise prison reform plan being floated by top negotiators.

The tentative deal was hatched Thursday between Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, as they huddled together in the House chamber during the morning legislative session.

The proposal would replace a provision in the Senate's prison reform bill, SB 7020, that proposes creation of a nine-member independent oversight commission approved by the governor with the power to investigate the agency, Evers said.

The compromise would replace the independent commission with a legislative select committee, staffed by at least four investigators. It would have the power to subpoena staff, monitor inmate and staff grievances, investigate complaints, take public testimony, meet regularly and monitor DOC's ability to follow performance standards.

"We have an agreement in concept but it's a far cry from where we were six months ago when no one was even talking about this, and nobody would have even considered an oversight board," said Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "It's everything the commission would be but made up of House and Senate members."

Evers spearheaded the call for prison reform after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations about suspicious inmate deaths, allegations of cover-up and sabotaged investigations within the inspector general's office. SB 7020 has passed the Senate and a similar measure is moving through the House, but with oversight offered by five regional boards made up of DOC staff.

The compromise must get conceptual approval from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and then be approved by the full House and Senate.

Trujillo, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said there are other details that must be resolved including whether to accept a provision in the House bill, HB 7131, that expands the Department of Corrections from three to five regions and creates an oversight panel over each region.

The House also would agree to several other provisions of the Senate bill. The Senate would agree to include a pilot program for body cameras and to make staff of the DOC's inspector general's office exempt from the career service system, allowing the secretary to hire and fire them at will. Both Trujillo and Evers said they have no intention of allowing the secretary to use that change to target whistle-blowers.

Evers said the commission would sunset after either three or five years, unless renewed by the Legislature.

"It will stand as long as there are problems that need to be addressed but it's not supposed to stand into perpetuity," Trujillo said.

By assigning legislators to the oversight commission, rather than volunteers, they avoid giving vendors seeking contracts undue access to influence the agency, Trujillo said.

"One of the biggest fears in the Senate version is you have people appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Senate, and many of the people that serve on these boards are industry people," he said. "They're not true investigators. They're not police officers. They're mostly vendors or people who have some sort of interest in the system and I think we need to avoid that."

Trujillo acknowledged that legislators have been responsible for underfunding the agency, leading DOC Secretary Julie Jones and former DOC chief Mike Crews to call for the injection of millions in additional money for staffing and infrastructure.

"But I don't think funding leads to deaths," Trujillo said. "The deaths weren't caused by a prison riot in which there wasn't sufficient security in order to safely protect the inmates. The deaths were homicides caused at the hands of guards.

"Do they have funding issues? Absolutely. Do they have facility issues? Absolutely," he said. "But the issues we're trying to solve is how do we make them safe places where these inmates don't become victims to predators inside the corrections system - either other inmates or actual guards."

The staffing and facility deficits are real, he said, "but that's not the main problem that we're seeing. The main problem is how do we protect the dignity and the humanity of these individuals in these facilities."

Evers said the benefit of the increased legislative oversight is that lawmakers will have a better understanding of the effect of their budget decisions on the agency.


Legislators want chief prison investigator fired





A House committee took aim at the state's chief prison inspector Tuesday, first accusing Jeffery Beasley of failing to properly investigate suspicious inmate deaths, then approving a plan to make it easier for the Department of Corrections' secretary to fire him and his staff.

"We have inmates that are being scalded to death in Miami-Dade County; inmates that are being pepper-sprayed and murdered, and nothing is being done about it," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, referring to a series of reports in the Miami Herald, at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. "Ask yourself, why is this happening?"

DOC Secretary Julie Jones, who has been defending Beasley for months, continued to support her top investigator, but she seemed to acknowledge that he will have to leave.

"Given the perception of all of the issues associated with the IG's office, I agree we need to make a change ultimately in leadership and structure in the IG's office," she told the Herald/Times.

The mission of the inspector general's office is to "protect and promote public integrity" and root out corruption in the department, which has been buffeted by investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the statewide prosecutor and the FBI, as well as the recent arrests of two corrections officers for allegedly planning the murder of a former inmate.

The House and Senate have proposed separate bills that increase oversight at the agency. The Senate plan, SB 7020, proposes an independent oversight board with a small full-time staff, while the House bill, HB 7131, would create five regional boards, each staffed with DOC employees.

While Trujillo wants Beasley removed immediately, Jones said that she hopes to wait until later in the year to give him time to complete investigations that she says will show his leadership at the agency is "not as bad as it would seem."

Trujillo, the committee chairman and sponsor of the House prison reform bill, noted that Beasley and his office have a history of dismissing claims and avoiding prosecutions when faced with allegations of abuse and official corruption.

He blamed the close-knit agency hierarchy for allowing investigators to be promoted "not based on merit, but based on cronyism."

Trujillo blasted reports produced by the inspector general's office as inadequate and incomplete, saying they failed to hold bad actors accountable for "killing people."

"Every single person who touched those reports, if they didn't come forward with the information, they hid the information, or they lied about the information, they should be held accountable," Trujillo said.

The amended bill would remove all employees of the inspector general's office from the state career service system, allowing them to be hired and fired at will. Under current law, the employees must undergo a lengthy administrative proceeding before they can be dismissed for cause.

But Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, warned that the changes could have the unintended effect of shielding those who are complicit in corruption while allowing the secretary to fire those who blow the whistle on them.

"I'm an advocate for independent oversight," Rodriguez said. "This gives even less independent oversight."

Christina Bullins, a former probation officer who sought whistle-blower protection after she was fired for attempting to call attention to the gassing death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Insitution, agreed that the wrong people could be targeted by Trujillo's bill.

"I would like to see an inspector general's office where good men and women find that's a safe haven," she said.

Trujillo told the Herald/Times that "the goal is in no way to go after whistle-blowers."

State Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the sponsor of the Senate prison reform bill, said he also has lost confidence in the ability of Beasley to root out corruption at the agency and warned that the investigations and lawsuits Jones wants him to work on "will continue to mount unless new leadership is involved."

Another amendment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee would create a pilot program to give body cameras to officers at Union Correctional Institution - one of the prisons with the highest numbers of use of force in the state. The officers would be required to wear body cameras every time they use force against an inmate. The cost to the state would be $124,000 and video would be archived in a cloud-based server, and would be subject to the state's public records law, Trujillo said.

Rodriguez warned, however, that there was nothing in the bill to penalize prisons for failing to record all use-of-force encounters or prevent supervisors from dictating what does and doesn't get recorded.

Trujillo countered that the goal of the pilot program is to "see if the cameras change behavior, or maybe they don't."

Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, said he was "very concerned about the privacy rights of the inmates" in light of Florida's "very aggressive Sunshine law." He said he was less concerned about the ability of the state to have access to the video and more concerned about the video showing up on YouTube.

The House bill also requires a review of all hiring practices, employee retention policies and employee training, Trujillo said.

Jones said she is working on providing her own additional oversight of her agency with a series of recent changes. Among them is a plan to centralize the discipline of excessive and unjustified use of force, shifting it from the prisons to a panel of agency executives in Tallahassee who have, in some cases, recommended firing people rather than putting them on administrative leave.

She is also implementing a plan to add psychiatric screenings for people who apply to work as corrections officers.

Finally, Jones said, she is planning to replace the contract that provides inmates with MP3 audio players with one that could supply them with scaled-down tablets allowing limited access to email and Skype with family members, access to thousands of online instructional courses and the ability to file grievances electronically.


Fred Grimm: Amid prison scandal, we're stuck with Scott while Georgia has the real deal



Nathan Deal is nobody's idea of a liberal. This is the guy who rammed the infamous "Guns Everywhere Act" through the Georgia Legislature last year, allowing gunslingers to pack heat in churches, bars, nightclubs, libraries. Before that, he made his name railing about undocumented immigrants. Gov. Deal is just plain crazy right wing.

So if ultra-conservative Deal has the guts to champion prison reform amid the loony politics of a state like Georgia, why the hell can't we get some like-minded leadership down here in a state of comparatively moderate inclinations.

Surely, Rick Scott must have noticed, now that he's on his fourth Department of Corrections secretary in four years, that something's amiss with Florida's prison system.

Over the last year, the Miami Herald has been reporting one horrific incident of inmate abuse after another. During Gov. Scott's tenure, prisoners have been routinely doused with pepper spray and tear gas by guards, treatment that left some them dead in their cells. In one ghastly incident, a mentally ill prisoner died after being locked in a scalding shower closet.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating more than 100 prison deaths of inmates.

Guards regularly covered up their involvement in suspicious deaths, while the DOC's Inspector General's Office pretended not to notice. Several current and former inspectors  told  state legislators that they had been ordered to ignore evidence of guard brutality. This testimony was elicited despite an  order  from the DOC hierarchy warning inspectors to keep their mouths shut.

All that, yet the governor had little to say about Florida's prison crisis. Not even after the last week's corrections scandal reverberated through the national media with the arrest of three guards charged with  plotting the murder of a black inmate at DOC's Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler. The guards were identified as members of the Ku Klux Klan. To put it more specifically, they ran with the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

When a prison employee adopts the title "Exalted Cyclops," it may be time for a governor to take notice.

Not our governor. After months of news stories that begin, "In the latest scandal out of the Florida prison system," Scott has remained oblivious. The corrections calamity didn't rate a mention in his January inaugural address.

Up in Georgia, meanwhile, Gov. Deal has made penal reform a personal mission. Over the last four years, under Deal's leadership, mandatory minimum sentencing has been modified. Judges have been given more discretion in sentencing.

While Florida has been brutalizing inmates, Georgia has added prison education programs. The famously conservative governor has pushed through programs aimed at reducing the number of juveniles and adult non-violent drug offenders in Georgia lock-ups. The state's prison population, which had been rapidly increasing in the years before Deal took office, has been reduced from 56,432 to 53,383. "A lot of people said that's not a topic that a Republican governor ought to be talking about," Deal told the Summit on Criminal Justice Reform last month.

But a Republican governor, at least one interested in leadership, can do exactly that and couch it as a fiscal necessity. Scott oversees a prison system with more than 100,000 prisoners and 22,000 employees that sucks $2.3 billion out of his annual budget. Surely, it must have occurred to his political consultants that Floridians expect their governor to repair this $2.3 billion sump of mismanagement, abuse, killings and cover-ups.

Back in 1968, when stories were seeping out of the infamous Dozier School for Boys about mysterious deaths and horrible mistreatment, Gov. Claude Kirk made a  surprise visit  to the state juvenile lock-up in Marianna. He was outraged by what he found. "If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances, you'd be up there with rifles," Kirk said.

Gov. Scott ought to try an unannounced visit to a Florida prison. He might have a similar revelation.

Instead, it was Senate Criminal Justice Chair Greg Evers who showed up for unexpected  visits  to two troubled prisons in North Florida, Jefferson Correctional and Suwannee Correctional, where inmates had rioted in 2013 and where an inmate died under suspicious circumstances in 2014.

"I'm sorry to be the only fool who has taken it on himself to check it out, but I don't like dog-and-pony shows," Evers told my Herald colleague, Mary Ellen Klas.

Evers is another right-wing Republican (and a darling of the NRA), but he managed to guide a progressive  bill  through the Senate with a 36-1 vote that would establish a nine-member independent oversight commission. His bill would enable prison commission members to make surprise inspections and confidentially interview prisoners or employees. They could investigate allegations of corruption or abuse. A grievance process for the inmates and their families or lawyers would allow for independent medical evaluations. Old or profoundly ill inmates could be released early.

Evers championed a real reform bill. Except the House of Representatives version, still awaiting a final vote, doesn't do much, with no oversight commission, with no new rules on accountability.

If Rick Scott had a sudden urge to demonstrate leadership, he could convince state representatives to support amendments that would bring Florida urgently needed prison reform. Maybe the governor should make a surprise visit to the House.


FDLE arrests two Department of Corrections officers for inmate abuse

Two guards at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City have been charged in connection with the brutal beating of an inmate, which they allegedly tried to cover up.

By Mary Ellen Klas on Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents arrested Correctional Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan, 37, and Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims, Jr., 21, on charges of aggravated battery and failure to report. Jernigan is also charged with tampering with evidence. The investigation, the latest of several in the Florida prison system involving alleged brutality, began at the request of the Department of Corrections with investigative assistance from the department's Office of Inspector General.

The investigation determined that Jernigan and Sims beat inmate Shurick Lewis, 41, at Columbia Correctional on Feb. 11, 2015, while he was being moved from a holding cell to a confinement cell. Prior to the battery, Jernigan and Sims ordered other inmates to clear the area and proceeded to a small area with no video surveillance.

After the assault, witnesses say Lewis was bleeding from his nose and mouth and his eye was swollen. He was seen by a prison nurse and sent back to his cell. Several hours later, he was found unresponsive by officers on the next shift and Lewis was transported to Shands Hospital , where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures.

Sims told agents Lewis fell from his bunk while Jernigan said he used force after the inmate lunged at him. After the assault, Jernigan instructed other inmates to clean up the blood, put a new mattress on the bunk and throw away bloody clothes.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately inform Lewis' mother, Carolyn Dawson, 63, of the attack or the details of her son's injuries.

"The Florida Department of Corrections has absolutely no tolerance for the behavior and actions taken by these individuals. Effective today, May 5, 2015, the employment of Correctional Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims has been terminated," said DOC SecretaryJulie Jones. "We will continue to take quick and decisive actions against those involved in abuse, neglect or misconduct of any kind and will cooperate fully with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the State Attorney to ensure that any employee engaged in this behavior is held accountable."

Jernigan turned himself in to the Columbia County Jail yesterday and Sims was arrested, with assistance from the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office, Wednesday night in Live Oak and booked into the Suwannee County Jail. The case will be prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office in the Fifth Judicial Circuit.

Columbia is considered one of the state's more violent prisons, with higher-than-average use of reports reports filed by staff. Over the past several years, one inmate was strangled, two were shot and several have killed themselves or overdosed on drugs. A captain was fired last year for failing to report criminal activity. Inmates have filed numerous federal lawsuits alleging that corrections officers routinely solicit violent inmates to harm other inmates.

In the most recent fatality, inmate Myong Sun Ji died in January under still unexplained circumstances.

Shurick's record shows he has been incarcerated since 1991 and was serving a 33-year sentence. He had been convicted of aggravated assault and burglary, as well as aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer in Miami-Dade County in 1994.

During his 24 years, he has racked up 80 disciplinary actions, most of them nonviolent.


Florida Prisons

After bungled plot, Klan-linked prison guards become inmates


Thomas Jordan Driver wanted to kill somebody in the worst way, authorities say.

He loaded insulin into syringes and planned to inject his target with the potentially lethal drug, then leave the man face-down in a river next to a fishing pole, to make it look like an accident. He considered shooting his victim and chopping up the body. But his first choice was to "stomp" the man's throat and kick "his teeth out."

Driver, a Florida prison guard until Thursday, is getting a taste of life on the other side of the bars. Driver and two buddies - all of whom prosecutors say belonged to an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, were charged with plotting to kill a former inmate at a North Florida prison.

Driver, 25, David Elliot Moran, 47, who goes by the name "Sarge," and Charles Thomas Newcomb, identified as "Exalted Cyclops" of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, each face one charge of conspiracy to commit murder. If convicted, they could get a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment.

The arrests are the latest blow to Florida 's Department of Corrections, which has endured months of news stories about unexplained inmate deaths and allegations of systemic corruption. Moran and Driver were, until Thursday, guards at the state's Reception and Medical Center , a prison that processes incoming inmates and provides medical care to others.

Located in Lake Butler , it houses a maximum of 1,503 inmates. Newcomb was a former prison employee who was let go during his probation period.

The three are alleged to have plotted the murder as retaliation for a fight between the unidentified inmate, who is African American, and Driver. In a secretly recorded conversation with a federal informant, Driver complained that the inmate had a contagious disease and that the prisoner had tried to infect him by biting him. "That blood work . I had to go through," Driver said. "The mental stress of it . I wouldn't want anybody to have to go through that."

Gerald Whitney Ray, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Driver and Moran were booked into the Union County Jail in Lake Butler. Newcomb, he said, was taken to the Alachua County Jail in Gainesville. All three were arrested on Thursday morning.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said that the three were "part of a white supremacist group that was targeting inmates."

She called the incident "disquieting."

The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is headed by a Missouri man, self-proclaimed Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona, who has made headlines lately for trying to modernize his Klan group while remaining faithful to its white-supremacist origins. The Knights' website allows followers to join the group online, and provides a 24-hour "Klanline" for prospective members. Ancona 's "official" Twitter account has 741 followers. Ancona wears a white robe and poses before a flaming cross in his profile picture.

In recent months, the group's activities have consisted largely of distributing leaflets, including a flier last November in which the group threatened to use "lethal force" against protesters in Ferguson , Missouri - the group called them "terrorists" - who were holding rallies following the shooting death of an African-American man by a white police officer.

Though Ancona claims his group has attracted thousands, a spokesman for the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which long has tracked hate groups, said he would be "shocked if there were 100 members."

Last year, the law center counted only two chapters of the Traditionalist American Knights, one in Prattville , Alabama , the other at the group's headquarters in Missouri , said Mark Potok, a senior fellow for the tracking organization. Potok described Ancona 's group as "very small and quite weak," and said he had no record of a Traditionalist American chapter, or "klavern," anywhere in Florida.

In Central Florida , Driver, Moran and Newcomb allegedly referred to each other as "brother," used the code word "church" for Klan activities, described secret sympathizers as "ghouls," and used the greeting "KIGY," for "Klansman, I greet you." After the federal informant showed Driver a phony picture of the group's intended target, appearing to be dead, Driver and the informant exchanged a kind of secret password: "KLASP," for "Klannish Loyalty, a Sacred Principal."

The investigation began in November 2014 when Driver, Moran and Newcomb sought the help of the unidentified federal informant, referred to in court papers as CHS, which stands for confidential human source. The informant was recruited to help the three alleged Klan members commit the killing, records show.

Newcomb, Moran and the informant drove to Palatka, near Gainesville , a sworn statement says, to "conduct surveillance" of their target's home. They also discussed how they would kill the man, alternating between shooting him with a 9mm gun or injecting him with insulin. "We could grab the package up and take him to the river, which is not far from him," Newcomb is quoted as saying, and "put his ass face-down and uh, give him a couple of shots."

Moran later added that the group could "do a complete disposal," and "chop up the body."

Eventually, court records say, the three men agreed to allow the federal informant to arrange the murder, and the federal "source" later showed the three men staged pictures of the man's corpse.

"Are you happy with that, brother?" the informant asked Driver, a transcript says.

"Yes, sir, very much so," Driver reportedly replied.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told reporters during a conference call late Thursday that the case will be tried in Columbia County by Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox.

Neither Bondi nor Cox would provide any details about the investigation, except to say that they staged the murder to verify the intent of the three men.

"We wanted to see their reaction because, a lot of times in these cases, the defendants will claim they weren't serious,'' Cox said. "So, when these guys were shown the photos, they were pleased. They thanked the guys" they believed had committed the killing, Cox added.

The arrests come after months of turmoil in the state's prison system, including allegations of suspicious inmate deaths, a doubling of use-of-force incidents in the past five years, and claims by whistle-blowers that investigations into corruption and inmate abuse within the Department of Corrections have been ignored or torpedoed.

In an effort to right the troubled agency, the Florida Senate this week passed a bill aimed at giving sweeping new investigatory powers to an independent oversight commission that could subpoena agency administrators suspected of wrongdoing.

On Thursday, the corrections department released an official statement: "We are moving swiftly to terminate the employees arrested today and working closely with the Office of the Attorney General to assist in their prosecution. Our Department has zero tolerance for racism or prejudice of any kind. The actions of these individuals are unacceptable and do not, in any way, represent the thousands of good, hardworking and honorable correctional officers employed at the Department of Corrections."

Driver, hired as a corrections officer on July 23, 2010, received a written reprimand in April 2012 for willful violation of rules, and another two months later for absence without authorized leave.

Moran, whose employment history goes back to 1996, was promoted to sergeant in April 2004. He received written reprimands in October 1999 and February 2006 for conduct unbecoming a public employee, and a supervisory counseling memorandum in May 2010 for abuse of sick leave.

Newcomb, hired Oct, 12, 2012, as a trainee-status correctional officer, was dismissed the following Jan. 6 for failure to meet a correctional officer's minimum training requirements.

The arrests Thursday resulted from an investigation by several law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Corrections' Inspector General's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.



March 24, 2015 | Filed in: Criminal justice, Uncategorized.

Do Florida prison scandals merit strong outside oversight?

State Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker

Pensacola Republican Sen. Greg Evers has been a profile in courage for relentlessly and repeatedly holding hearings on Department of Corrections scandals within the Criminal Justice Committee he chairs.

Evers' hearings have unearthed what appears to be an entrenched criminal culture among not only inmates, but, even more troubling, among some guards and wardens. Speaker after speaker have described a backwards, gang-like professional culture where cruelty, brutality, neglect, retaliation and even murder flourish; where the honest are intimidated into submission, and where those charged with oversight look away.

Some Corrections staff have allegedly profited from a trade in black-market cigarettes and sexual favors, pocketing thousands in ill-gotten profits while facing little or no consequences. Even the agency's inspector general has been accused of enabling corruption by ordering investigators to let misconduct and crimes go unscrutinized.

Early on, Evers called in George Mallinckrodt, a mental health professional who lost his job at Miami-Dade Correctional Institution two months after reporting the death of an inmate at the hands of guards (Correction: I was fired after not staying silent about an inmate beating. Ten months later my coworker Carmen called me with the horrific details of Rainey's death). He wrote a book about the death of Darren Rainey, a severely mentally ill inmate who was burned to death in a rigged scalding shower as punishment for wiping feces in his cell.

In the mental health unit at the prison, he said, "inmates were regularly taunted, tormented and in some cases tortured and beaten."

"I tried to get justice for Darren Rainey," Mallinckrodt said. "I made calls to Miami-Dade Police detectives and the medical examiner. Two and a half years later, the medical examiner's report is still pending."

And yet leadership in the Florida House of Representatives has apparently concluded that the Florida Department of Corrections needs no extra oversight. According to the Post's John Kennedy, the House favors answering the avalanche of scandals by simply giving the agency extra funding to hire more guards.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is apparently concerned that imposing an oversight commission would apply a "bad tag" to the agency. Too late.

Evers' committee looked at how 10 other states handle the question of corrections oversight. Some, including Texas, have the kind of strong oversight board that the Senate is now considering. Texas' Criminal Justice Board hires and fires its executive director, approves its corrections budget and makes legislative requests. The inspector general reports to the board.

In Texas, they're not boiling mentally ill inmates alive, as far as we know. Would you agree that Florida needs an independent oversight board for its Department of Corrections.


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