Advocates want answers surrounding scalding death at Dade Correctional Institution in Homestead. (Photo by Lonny Paul)

Advocates want answers surrounding scalding death at Dade Correctional Institution in Homestead. (Photo by Lonny Paul)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

A coalition of human rights and religious groups is asking the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to look into a scalding death that occurred at a state prison in South Florida. The unexplained death was first reported in The Miami Herald.

This past May, The Miami Herald reported that three former employees of the psychiatric unit at Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida alleged that staff at the facility were tormenting and abusing mentally-ill inmates for years.  One of the former employees, George Mallinckrodt, even took his complaints to the DOJ, as well.

The Herald reported that the complaint included a reference to the death of Darren Rainey.

Herald reporter Julie Browne described Rainey’s death, for which no one has been held accountable, in a lengthy investigative article:

The purported details of Darren Rainey’s last hour are difficult to read.

“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’’ he screamed over and over, according to a grievance complaint from a fellow inmate, as Rainey was allegedly locked in a shower with the scalding water turned on full blast.

A 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution, Rainey was pulled into the locked shower by prison guards as punishment after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, said the fellow inmate, who worked as an orderly. He was left there unattended for more than an hour as the narrow chamber filled with steam and water.

When guards finally checked on prisoner 060954, he was on his back and dead. His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.

But nearly two years after Rainey’s death on June 23, 2012, the Miami-Dade medical examiner has yet to complete an autopsy and Miami-Dade police have not charged anyone. The Florida Department of Corrections halted its probe into the matter, saying it could be restarted if the autopsy and police investigation unearth new information.

After the story appeared, the ACLU of Florida, Florida Justice Institute, Amnesty International, Florida Council of Churches, and the NAACP have announced they sent letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter urgently requests a “federal investigation into [a] series of inmate deaths and abuse of mental ill detainees in Florida facilities.”

According to a press release from the ACLU of Florida:

The letter to Attorney General Holder explains that state and county officials have avoided investigation and public accountability for Mr. Rainey’s death, which is not the only recent death of an inmate in a Florida prison. Despite the fact that the autopsy was completed 18 months ago, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner has declined to release the autopsy report to either the public or the Rainey family. Although a DOC investigation into the death has been reopened, the department will not investigate whether anyone should be held accountable for the death of Darren Rainey.

From the letter:

“After two years, no one has been held accountable, and indeed it appears that no one will be held accountable for the death of Darren Rainey, unless an investigation is conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

…“Darren Rainey’s death is one of seven Florida prison deaths now under scrutiny. But particularly because Florida corrections officials and other agencies have gone to such lengths to avoid an investigation that could hold someone accountable for his death, we urge the U.S. Department of Justice to explore the need for an investigation of the death of Darren Rainey, allegations that scalding hot showers are or have been used as a form of punishment on other mentally ill inmates as well as other forms of inappropriate punishment..”

The Herald is gathering more information on what happened at the facility. The paper requested a copy of the audit by the American Correctional Association and has asked the Florida Department of Corrections for the personnel files of three guards accused of wrongdoing.

The newspaper has also requested footage from the prisons cameras and other public records. However, according to the Herald, “the inspector general cited a ‘malfunction’ making it impossible to view what happened after corrections officer Roland Clarke placed Rainey in the shower.”

The paper was told emails regarding Rainey’s death could take about six months to turn over.