In 2014, an astounding 346 people died in Florida prisons – the highest number of deaths on record to date. Many inmates died of natural causes, but at least 15 deaths were determined to be homicides. Some deaths were suspicious enough that in 2015, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into the Florida prison system to determine whether the events in question amount to wrongful deaths caused by either negligence or intentional action.
Miami Herald Report Spurred Legislative Action
The Miami Herald began a series of reports in 2014 detailing prisoner abuse and deaths, that ultimately moved a coalition of 14 human rights groups, headed by the Florida ACLU, to call for the DOJ investigation via a letter to Assistant Lawyer General Vanita Gupta. According to the Herald, prisoners were subjected to violent beatings, torture, and threats, all of which were covered up by the prison system.
One of those inmates, Darren Rainey, resided at the Dade Correctional Institution. A 50-year-old mentally ill man serving a two-year sentence for possession of cocaine, Rainey died at the prison in 2012 after allegedly being subjected to a scalding hot shower for more than an hour. Other inmates reported hearing Rainey screaming, and others claim they were forced to clean up the aftermath in the shower stall. For years, no autopsy report was available. Early this year, over three years after Rainey died, his death was ruled “accidental” as a result of complications from heart disease and schizophrenia and related medications, and no charges have been filed against any guards involved in the shower incident. A federal criminal investigation into Rainey’s death is still pending.
Another inmate, Latandra Ellington, was in prison at Lowell Correctional Institution (for tax fraud), where her family believes she was murdered. Ellington sent a letter to her aunt, Algarene Jennings, detailing how a guard had threatened to kill her. Jennings called the prison after receiving the letter, concerned over her niece’s safety, and officials promised her that Ellington would be protected. The next morning, Ellington was dead. An independent autopsy found that Ellington died from hemorrhaging caused by blunt force trauma consistent with kicking or punching to the abdomen, and Jennings personally saw scars and bruises on her niece’s body.
Since the Herald report, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in Florida met in 2015 to begin discussing the necessary changes to the state’s prison system. A former therapist in the transitional care unit at Dade Correctional Institute testified before the Committee that he, too, had witnessed inmates tortured and killed by abusive guards, and that when he or others objected to such treatment, they were retaliated against or ignored. In April 2015, the Senate voted to create an independent oversight commission to investigate suspicious incidents in correctional facilities, but the bill ultimately failed due to disagreements between the Senate and the House. Governor Rick Scott did include some reforms in his Executive Orders, including surprise inspections. In early 2016, new reforms were proposed to build on an existing commission rather than creating a new independent oversight commission. It remains to be seen what the legislature will decide, but human rights groups will likely remain involved in promoting prisoner safety in Florida.
Contact an Experienced Ocala Wrongful Death Lawyer
If your loved one has been injured or killed due to another person’s negligence or intentional action, consult an experienced lawyer to help you determine what rights you have. No amount of money can compensate you for the loss of your loved one, but you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and mental pain and suffering. Lawyer John Piccin at the Piccin & Glynn in Ocala can help you navigate this difficult process and represent your family’s rights. Call John at 352-581-6174 for your free initial case consultation today.