Investigators launch another round of complaints against Florida's Department of Corrections. (Photo by Thomas Hawk /Creative Commons)

Investigators launch another round of complaints against Florida’s Department of Corrections. (Photo by Thomas Hawk /Creative Commons)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC) is under fire again for another round of allegations of abuse and corruption in the state’s prisons.

The Miami Herald reported this week:

Four investigators with the Department of Corrections have accused the state of Florida of running a prison system rife with corruption, brutality and officially sanctioned gang violence — and of retaliating against them when they tried to expose what was going on.

The four filed a federal whistle-blower complaint on Monday alleging that state prisoners were beaten and tortured, that guards smuggled in drugs and other contraband in exchange for money and sexual favors, and that guards used gang enforcers to control the prison population. They claim those actions were either tacitly approved or covered up.

Several weeks ago, three former employees of the psychiatric unit at Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida alleged that staff at the facility tormented and abused mentally-ill inmates for sport.

One of the more harrowing cases described was the story of inmate Darren Rainey, who died after being left in a scalding hot shower. According to the Herald, no one at the prison had been held accountable for the man’s gruesome death.

One of those former employees that came forward with Rainey’s story took his complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice. Since the Herald began reporting on the allegations, human rights groups have called on the federal government to investigate what happened at Dade Correctional.

Now, the Herald is reporting more complaints against DOC:

In the complaint and accompanying documents, veteran investigator Aubrey P. Land described the death of a 27-year-old inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, who was found lifeless — a Bible next to his head, his body coated with yellow chemical gas — at Franklin Correctional Institution in September 2010.

According to Land, Jordan-Aparo, serving an 18-month term for credit card fraud and drug charges, was placed in solitary confinement and gassed multiple times by guards after he had begged to be taken to the hospital for a worsening medical condition. Land, who said he stumbled on the death of Jordan-Aparo while investigating other “garden-variety” corruption and abuses at Franklin, said the prison’s medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors later conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events leading to the inmate’s death.

Jessica Cary, a spokeswoman for the DOC, said the agency had not yet seen the lawsuit so it could not comment.

To date, no one has been criminally charged or held administratively responsible in the death of Jordan-Aparo.

… In their lawsuit, Land and fellow investigators John Ulm and Doug Glisson concluded that the DOC’s 2010 Jordan-Aparo death investigation “was either intentionally misleading or the Department of Corrections’ investigators at the scene in 2010 had been grossly negligent.’’

According to the Herald, Jordan-Aparo had a blood disorder and was seeking medical treatment, but none was given to him. Land told the Herald Jordan-Aparo began growing weak and frustrated because he was not getting medical attention. After verbally lashing out at a nurse, Jordan-Aparo was gassed to death by staff at the prison. The Herald’s Julie Brown wrote, “He was sprayed so much that photographs show the outline of his body surrounded by mustard-colored gas all over the cell walls.”

Prison supervisors said Jordan-Aparo was causing a disturbance at the time, but Land argued he was too sick to be any real problem.

State officials have said the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General are currently looking into the death.

The Herald reports that the state’s former corrections chief, James McDonough, said what happened in the agency he used to run “smacks of torture, sadism, murder, cover up, and ignoring of the facts.”

McDonough, the former drug czar and DOC secretary under Gov. Jeb Bush, was responding to a series of reports in the Miami Herald alleging the abusive deaths of inmates and cover-up at the agency. McDonough was tapped to head the prison department by Bush from 2006-2008 after Bush fired Secretary James Crosby, who was convicted for taking kickbacks.

“I am revolted by what I am hearing, just as I am by what I am not hearing,” said McDonough, a retired army colonel and Purple Heart recipient, in an email Tuesday to Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown. “The latter refers to the silence and lack of sense of outrage by Department officials, or for that matter, other officials.

“There is only so much that can be feigned as we ‘wait for the conclusion of an official investigation’,” he wrote. “These cases did not end tragically last week; they ended in horrific and suspicious deaths some years ago.  Where has the leadership been?”

…”Where is the outrage from those in charge, within the department and beyond?” he asked.

The current head of the state’s prison system, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews, vowed this week to  “hold any individuals within its Department accountable if they are found of any wrongdoing,” the Herald reported.

However, according to the paper, “Crews failed to accept blame for any of the allegations in response to a report in today’s Miami Herald in which four investigators within the department filed a whistleblower complaint alleging systemic corruption within the department, including inmate brutality and officially sanctioned gang violence.”

Crews said in a statement: “DOC takes these matters seriously and will continue to fully assist the FBI and DOJ during the course of their investigations.  If laws were broken by DOC officers or staff, those persons will be swiftly prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Safe and ethically run prisons are central to keeping our crime rate at a historic low.”