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FDLE launches criminal probe of suspicious inmate death

The Florida Department of Corrections is ordering leadership changes at one of its biggest prisons and has ordered a criminal investigation following the suspicious and still-unexplained death of an inmate last month at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

The prison system also said "there may be more investigations opened," suggesting there may be one or more additional cases involving questionable inmate deaths. 

The agency, which is under the direction of Gov. Rick Scott, issued a statement Thursday confirming the probe by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the prison system's office of inspector general, in response to questions by the Times/Herald. The prison system at first declined to comment on the case, citing federal privacy laws concerning inmates' medical condition. 

"One question is whether this was an excessive use of force," the prison system's statement said. "There's not much more that we can say at this time because of the investigation."

The state has not identified the dead inmate. The Times/Herald has learned that he was Frank Smith, 44, who had served most of a 16-year sentence for carjacking and assault convictions in Miami-Dade County. Smith, described as 5-feet-8 and weighing 129 pounds, is listed as "DECEASED" on the state prison system's web site.

The Alachua County Medical Examiner in Gainesville confirmed that Smith died on Sept. 4, but the office declined further comment. 

The prison system is also transferring Union C.I.'s warden, Barry Reddish, to another prison. The new warden at Union, Diane Andrews, starts work on Friday. Andrews, a 30-year employee of the prison system, has been the warden at Madison Correctional near Tallahassee. 

"We take the safety of inmates very seriously, which is why we have asked FDLE to take over this case," the Corrections Department's statement said. "The DOC administration has instructed all DOC personnel to fully comply with this investigation."

Smith is the second inmate to die in state custody this year under circumstances the state has declined to explain. Inmate Darren Rainey died at Dade Correctional Institution in Miami several months ago.

-- Steve Bousquet