May 20, 2015

Feds launch criminal investigation into Miami-Dade inmate's shower death

via @juliekbrown

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has begun a criminal investigation into the death of Darren Rainey, the 50-year-old inmate who was locked in a shower that had been converted into a scalding torture chamber at Dade Correctional Institution.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida also are questioning witnesses in connection with alleged atrocities in the prison’s mental health ward, including a practice of starving inmates so severely that they would snap off sprinkler-heads, flooding their cells and violating fire codes, so they would be arrested and sent to the county jail, where they would be fed.

Rainey’s death nearly three years ago, along with subsequent stories about rampant inmate abuse as well as a record number of deaths in Florida’s prisons, has spawned demands for an overhaul of the Florida Department of Corrections. The agency’s inspector general, Jeffery Beasley, has been accused of trying to whitewash suspicious deaths, medical neglect cases and corruption. He himself is the subject of a state investigation after four of his subordinates stated under oath this year that he asked them to sideline cases that would give the agency “a black eye.’’

For more than a year, the Miami Herald has investigated claims, interviewed witnesses and reviewed hundreds of records from current and former inmates and staff at Dade Correctional, located on the edge of the Everglades south of Homestead. Alleged abuses included sexual assaults by officers against inmates, racially motivated beatings and the withholding of food from inmates in one wing of the mental health ward.

More here.

May 08, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott signs executive order to reform Florida prisons

From Gov. Rick Scott's office:

Governor Rick Scott today signed Executive Order 15-102 which makes significant reforms in Florida’s prison system to improve safety, transparency and accountability. The measures included in Executive Order 15-102 were recommended by Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones and various stakeholders. Many of the included reforms are currently being implemented by the FDOC to increase safety.

Governor Scott said, “The steps outlined in today’s executive order present a clear path forward for the Florida Department of Corrections. The Department’s number one focus is the safety of Florida’s correctional officers, communities and the inmates in state custody and supervision. I would like to thank Secretary Jones for advancing the Department’s mission by increasing transparency and accountability in all Florida correctional institutions.” 

“The Florida Department of Corrections is committed to progress and reform through data-driven initiatives and actions,” said Secretary Julie Jones. “Looking forward, it is critically important that this Department continues in our efforts to be accountable to the people of Florida, our employees and the hundreds of thousands of inmates and offenders under our custody and supervision.”

Read the governor's four-page executive order here.

May 05, 2015

FDLE arrests two Department of Corrections officers for inmate abuse

Dwight Simsvia @jknipebrown

Two guards at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City have been charged in connection with the brutal beating of an inmate, which they allegedly tried to cover up.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents arrested Correctional Officer Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan, 37, and Correctional Officer Donald Dwight Sims, Jr., 21, on charges of aggravated battery and failure to report. Jernigan is also charged with tampering with evidence. The investigation, the latest of several in the Florida prison system involving alleged brutality, began at the request of the Department of Corrections with investigative assistance from the department’s Office of Inspector General.

The investigation determined that Jernigan and Sims beat inmate Shurick Lewis, 41, at Columbia Correctional on Feb. 11, 2015, while he was being moved from a holding cell to a confinement cell. Prior to the battery, Jernigan and Sims ordered other inmates to clear the area and proceeded to a small area with no video surveillance.

After the assault, witnesses say Lewis was bleeding from his nose and mouth and his eye was swollen. He was seen by a prison nurse and sent back to his cell. Several hours later, he was found unresponsive by officers on the next shift and Lewis was transported to Shands Hospital, where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures.

Continue reading "FDLE arrests two Department of Corrections officers for inmate abuse" »

April 28, 2015

Prison reform becomes a casualty of early session demise

By Mary Ellen Klas and Michael Auslen

As the session melted down on Tuesday, Senate President Andy Gardiner announced that the prison reform compromise -- which featured the Senate agreeing to withdraw from its position for an independent oversight board -- was now a casualty of the impasse.

"The last three days of session, we should be negotiating that as a partner," Gardiner told the chamber after the House had adjourned three days early. Of the prison reform bill that was passed by the House last week, he said: "That bill's not going to make it."

Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was satisfied to drop the compromise bill, which he had worked on with his counterpart in the House, Rep. Carlos Trujillo. The Senate had agreed to remove many of the provisions it had sought in exchange for some reforms but the additional oversight depended on the Senate president and House speaker to follow up with the creation of a joint select committee to pursue prison reform.

"There will not be a reform bill coming out,'' Evers told the Herald/Times. "But I'm sure that the Senate president will set up a committee for the oversight of the Department of Corrections."

He said that many of the changes sought by the bill can be made by rule and at the direction of the DOC secretary. "So the reforms, yes, will be made."

Gardiner told reporters that he is prepared to assign Senate staff, and the Senate Criminal Justice Committe, to continue the investigations into the troubled agency.

 "If it doesn't pass, then we will put our corrections committee on the road within a couple of weeks, and they'll do their own investigations,'' he said. "I can subpoena people. We're not done with that. It's unfortunate that the House did what they did."

Evers noted that the issue could emerge as part of a special session on the budget. 

"Am I going to reevaluate it? No,'' he said. "Because it's not going to do anything within the bill that can't be done by rule. I feel reasonably sure that the Senate president, that we will set up our own committee and we will direct it to take care of the oversight of the Department of Corrections." 

April 24, 2015

House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency

The investigative staff at the Department of Corrections would face an overhaul, officers who injure inmates could be subject to felonies, and the state would start a pilot project to put body cameras on prison guards, under a bill set to be given preliminary approval today in the Florida House.

The proposal is the first part of a bi-partisan agreement between the House and Senate to address questions of inmate abuse, allegations of staff cover-ups and evidence of organizational troubles that have been festering in the state’s prison system for years. The agency and its staff are also under investigation by both state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a lot of problems in the prison system and this is a monumental step forward – and it’s only the beginning,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who negotiated the compromise with Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

The changes are included in an amendment by Trujillo to SB 7020. The second element of the deal, not included in the bill, is a promise to create a select committee of legislators to provide oversight of DOC, review treatment of inmates, investigate grievance trends and monitor implementation of provisions in the bill beginning this fall.

Evers began investigating DOC in January in the wake of several reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations that exposed suspicious inmate deaths, questionable use of force and allegations of agency cover-ups. 

Faced with opposition from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, the proposals no longer include elements that would have taken authority over the agency away from the governor. Evers originally proposed creating an independent oversight commission that would have the ability to investigation allegations of wrongdoing at the state’s largest agency. The Senate plan also would have required that DOC secretary to be appointed by the governor and Cabinet, with confirmation by the Senate. 

Continue reading "House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency " »

April 20, 2015

Updated: Florida Channel agreed to mute name of inmate from Senate testimony

The Florida ChannelThe state-run public television channel agreed to remove the name of an inmate from the audio file of a Senate hearing in which a Department of Corrections whistle-blower alleged that potential criminal activity was ignored or cover-up at the agency, the executive director of The Florida Channel told the Herald/Times.

Doug Glisson, an inspector with the Department of Correction’s Office of Inspector General, testified under oath at the March 10 meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that the agency covered up potentially negligent medical care, criminal activity and sabotaged investigations to protect high ranking officials within the organization.

Among the examples Glisson cited was the case of inmate Quintin Foust, whose death was listed as “suspicious” by the medical examiner. Glisson said Foust was “undergoing medical care” at Jefferson Correctional Institution but did not provide any details about his medical condition or ailments. He said Foust “started having seizures” and “wound up dying.”  

Beth Switzer, executive director of The Florida Channel, said that "approximately two weeks after the meeting was held and subsequently archived on our site" she received a call from DOC spokesman McKinley Lewis "telling me that an 'inadvertent HIPAA violation' had occurred in the 3/10/15 meeting and asked if there was anything we could do to keep the person’s name from being repeated over and over again in violation of HIPAA."

The federal HIPAA privacy rule protects individuals from disclosure of identifiable health information.

Continue reading "Updated: Florida Channel agreed to mute name of inmate from Senate testimony" »

April 19, 2015

Increased prison oversight could ramp up scrutiny of private prison services

Looming in the background in the legislative debate over prison reform is a question that could come into new focus: How productive was the move to privatize prisons and inmate health care and how much farther should it go?

Florida legislative leaders last week tentatively agreed to the creation of a joint legislative oversight board with the power to investigate and monitor the performance of Florida’s troubled Department of Corrections. It’s goal is to secure the safety of inmates in the face of mounting reports of suspicious inmate deaths, excessive use of force and allegations of cover-ups at the agency that houses more than 101,000 prisoners, said sponsors of the measure, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

But the legislative panel could also open the door to an evaluation of the recent shift in priorities that has led the state to open seven private prisons, contract out services for 21 inmate work camps, and shift mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment and inmate health care to private vendors.

“We are responsible for supervising every single person who is incarcerated in the State of Florida,’’ said Trujillo, sponsor of the House bill. “Our intention isn’t to privatize more facilities,” said Trujillo. “It is to look at inmate safety and some of the organizational problems that have led to the lack of inmate safety.”

More here

DOC scrubs testimony from prison whistle-blower for allegedly violating HIPAA

Doug GlissonThe Department of Corrections concluded that the name of an inmate should be erased from the video testimony of an whistle-blower at a Senate committee because of federal HIPAA privacy laws, an agency spokesman told the Herald/Times.

Doug Glisson, an inspector with the DOC’s Office of Inspector General, testified under oath at the March 10 meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that the agency covered up potentially negligent medical care, criminal activity and sabotaged investigations to protect high ranking officials within the organization.

Among the examples Glisson cited was the case of inmate Quintin Foust, whose death was listed as “suspicious” by the medical examiner. Glisson said Foust was “undergoing medical care” at Jefferson Correctional Institution but did not provide any details about his medical condition or ailments. He said Foust “started having seizures” and “wound up dying.”  

Glisson said he and his investigator believed that a criminal investigation should have been conducted of Foust’s death but was told by “upper management at the Office of Inspector General to close that criminal case” because of a “conversation he had had with the state attorney’s office and that we would run that case administratively.” 

Foust's cause of death is now listed as "natural" on the DOC web site. 

Some time after the Senate hearing, DOC concluded that Glisson’s testimony violated the federal HIPAA privacy rule, which protects individuals from disclosure of identifiable health information, said McKinley Lewis, DOC spokesman.  

Lewis then provided the time codes from the video to The Florida Channel and asked them to scrub the name references from the audio. 

"The department notified The Florida Channel that some of the information released violated federal HIPAA law,’’ Lewis said. “We have a responsibility to protect the personal health information of all inmates and staff.” 

Continue reading "DOC scrubs testimony from prison whistle-blower for allegedly violating HIPAA" »

April 18, 2015

DOC now reassigns prison whistle-blowers, targets them for investigation, has audio scrubbed

Doug GlissonOne month after the Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told the Senate Appropriations Committee that she had asked the governor's chief investigator to look into the claims the whistle-blowers that DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley impeded their investigations into suspicious inmate deaths,  three of the officers have not been interviewed by anyone looking into the matter, according to the attorney for the three.

Instead, the inspectors, who risked their careers by going public, now face intense scrutiny. 

The Miami Herald has learned that two of the DOC inspectors who testified last month before state lawmakers — Doug Glisson and John Ulm — have been stripped of their investigative posts and slapped with a pile of internal affairs complaints.

A third inspector, David Clark, who did not testify but publicly alleged Beasley tried to sabotage cases, has also been transferred, DOC officials confirmed Thursday. They are among nine inspectors currently under investigation, according to department spokesman McKinley Lewis.

Meanwhile, the archive of Glisson's sworn testimony before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 10 has been scrubbed of some of his audio as blank gaps now exist as he discusses cases in which he is alleging cover-ups and wrongdoing. 

Glisson, a supervisor who has a 20-year career in law enforcement, had a spotless history with the agency, according to his attorney, Steven Andrews. All three have been moved to DOC headquarters in Tallahassee and assigned to offices with no access to DOC records. For the most part, Andrews said, they’ve been given busy work to pass the time.

“This is the clearest case of retaliation I’ve seen in my 37 years of practicing law,’’ said Andrews, who represents Ulm, Clark and Glisson.

Jones told Senate Committees in March and again in April that she had asked Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate "every single accusation that they made" to determine if there was any wrongdoing by the inspector general, any rules violations or any evidence of employees being put under undue pressure.

More here.

April 16, 2015

Three guards plead guilty in federal court to abusing inmates


Three of the “Chipley Five,’’ a group of corrections officers accused of beating and kicking a handcuffed inmate at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley, have pleaded guilty to civil rights violations, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Former state prison guards William Finch, 35, of Wauseau, and Dalton E. Riley, 24, of Bethlehem, pleaded guilty Thursday before a federal judge in Panama City. A third ex-officer, Robert L. Miller, 48, of Lynn Haven, pleaded guilty on April 1.

The three admitted that they beat inmate Jeremiah Tatum, then tried to cover it up. According to the state attorney, Finch falsified reports by stating they attacked Tatum because he had spit on one of the officers.

Two other officers, James Perkins and Christopher Christmas, also face federal charges in connection with the Aug. 5 beating, which was allegedly planned in advance as retaliation against Tatum.

A captain, James Kirkland, allegedly orchestrated the assault after Tatum tried to block the chemical agents sprayed on him and, as a result, some of the gas dispersed onto Kirkland and another corrections officer, according to court documents.

More here.