Many are outraged following the recent revealing that no officers will be charged in the brutal shower death of a mentally ill inmate inside of Miami’s Dade Correctional Mental Health Unit.
Following the 101-page investigation that was released on Friday, it was concluded that corrections officers who locked a schizophrenic inmate in a hot shower at Dade Correctional Institution and left him there for nearly two hours — until realizing he was dead — committed no crime.
The report, issued by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, said the death of 50-year-old prisoner Darren Rainey was an “accident” caused by complications from his mental illness, a heart condition, and “confinement in a shower.”
At least six inmates claimed that the shower was specially made to allow corrections officers to control the temperature of the water, which inmates say the officers used as a form of punishment to control unruly inmates, most of whom suffered from mental illnesses.
However, despite the claims from inmates, the state attorney’s two-year probe decided that the statements were not credible and found no wrongdoing from the officers.
According to the report, Sgt. John Fan Fan and officers Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke, and Edwina Williams — the officers involved in putting Rainey into the shower — “did not act with premeditation, malice, recklessness, ill-will, hatred, or evil intent,” the state attorney said.
The report included photographs, videos, and dozens of witness statements, including the medical examiner’s summary, prison housing logs, timelines, and other documents.
The attorney representing Rainey’s siblings, Milton Grimes, suggested that the report was released late on an international holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, to limit public scrutiny of the clear “inadequacies” of the investigation.
“We are appalled that the state attorney did not look deeper into this case and see the criminality of the people who were involved,” Grimes said. He said the family is disappointed, but remains hopeful that federal investigators will still prob into possible civil rights abuses and find some type of justice for Rainey.
Grimes also suggested that police and state attorney investigators gave too much credibility to corrections officers’ testimony and not enough to the news reports and inmate grievances suggesting prison staff has been abusing inmates at the prison for years.
Others also questioned whether the case was thorough.
“A lot of evidence was tampered with because the people there who had an interest did not want it to come out,” said Harriet Krzykowski, a former mental health counselor at the prison who was not interviewed as part of the probe.
According to MiamiHerald, the most controversial portion of the state inquiry is the temperature of the shower. The report gives no indication that crime scene investigators turned on the water to see how hot it ran. A prison captain, assigned as the environmental health and safety officer, tested it two days after Rainey’s death and found it to be 160 degrees, far greater than the 120-degree limit set by the state.
Of those interviewed, two prison officers, a nurse, and a paramedic were interviewed by actual police, even though multiple inmate witnesses had reached out to various law enforcement authorities. The final report also doesn’t explain why the case was put on hold, or why it took nearly five years after Rainey’s death. The autopsy is still yet to be released.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who reviewed the report for the Herald, said it’s clear that the evidence did not meet the legal standard required to charge any of the officers with a crime.
“If you want to buy the government-conspiracy theory that the state attorney never charges corrections officers because they are part of the conspiracy, you are going to say they twisted the facts to support their theory,” he said.
“But if you look at it objectively, I don’t disagree with the results that were released. The only person that says that Rainey was burned and scalded was one inmate — and when you compare that to the rest of the evidence, it’s not consistent.”
Another inmate, Harold Hempstead, was an orderly in the mental ward when Rainey died and was the first one who first raised concerns when he began writing letters and filing complaints with police, the medical examiner, and the state attorney about Rainey’s death as well as other alleged abuses inside the TCU.
He and other inmates and mental health staff told the Herald that state prison guards used forms of torture, including dousing prisoners with buckets of chemicals, over-medicating them, forcing them to fight each other, and starving them. A group of officers at the prison that served inmates empty food trays, known as “air trays,” was known as the “diet squad,’’ and they often preyed on inmates who were too ill to coherently report what had happened, prisoners said.
Around the time of Rainey’s death, another inmate hung himself from an air conditioning vent, leaving a note sewn into his shorts detailing a list of the alleged abuses against inmates in the mental health unit.
“I’m in a mental health facility … I’m supposed to be getting help for my depression, suicidal tendencies and I was sexually assaulted,” wrote Richard Mair, 40.
The Department of Corrections has yet to investigate Mair’s complaints, and the state attorney’s investigation in the Rainey case was limited to the facts surrounding Rainey’s death. State investigators claim they didn’t find Hempstead’s accounts to be credible because his timeline conflicted with events reflected on a video surveillance camera.
Hempstead has since been relocated to another state Friday, yet undisclosed, through a prisoner exchange, making him unavailable for comment. Prison officials said the timing was coincidental.
Following the investigative journalism from the Miami Herald, Dade Correctional’s warden and assistant warden were forced out, and, later, then-Secretary Michael Crews stepped down amid political pressure. He was replaced by Jones. Other high-level prison officials have also left, including the prison agency’s inspector general, Jeffery Beasley — the system’s “watchdog” — who was accused by his own investigators of thwarting investigations.
Two of the guards identified as locking Rainey in the shower left their prison jobs, but were allowed to keep their law enforcement certifications. Roland Clarke is now a police officer in Miami Gardens, and Cornelius Thompson works as a federal corrections officer.
Rainey’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections in 2016. It is still pending. The U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating possible civil rights abuses in Florida prisons.