September 19, 2016

Family of inmate who died 6 years ago after being gassed, beaten sues state -- which is still investigating

Jordanaparovia @JknipeBrown

A 27-year-old prisoner who died at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 was killed by corrections officers who tortured, gassed and beat him, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

The inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, suffered from a genetic blood disorder that had flared up in the months before his death. As his condition worsened, the lawsuit alleges, corrections officers, doctors and nurses at the prison denied him medical attention, and when he complained, they forced him into an isolation cell and gassed him until he could no longer breathe.

The inmate, who was serving time for credit card fraud, was found dead in his cell, naked except for his boxer shorts, in March 2010. Photographs of his body show him face-down next to his Bible. His hair, legs, toes and mouth — as well as the walls of the cell — were coated with orange residue, a byproduct of the chemical spray. Story here. 

September 13, 2016

Inmate uprisings continue with Columbia Correctional the latest to go on lockdown

via @JknipeBrown
Prison photo 2Florida’s state prisons have resumed “normal” operations despite a disturbance Monday night at Columbia Correctional, the fifth inmate uprising in less than a week, officials said.

About 40 inmates engaged in civil disobedience by refusing officers’ orders and taking control of at least one dorm Monday evening. Prison spokeswoman Michelle Glady said there were no injuries and the incident was brought under control quickly.

Columbia — one of the state’s most violent prisons — remained on lockdown Tuesday. Gang violence has festered in the prison, located in Lake City, in North Central Florida. A corrections officer was stabbed in April.

Since Thursday, inmates have caused trouble at four other prisons, all in the state’s Panhandle: Gulf Annex Correctional, Mayo Correctional and Jackson Correctional. The most serious melee was at Holmes Correctional, where 400 inmates destroyed several dorms on Thursday.

Julie Jones, secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, said the disturbances were “quickly and effectively’’ addressed, and she praised her staff and corrections officers for their response.

Read more here:

August 29, 2016

Appeals court overturns ruling, says prison agency doesn't need to specify why it's redacting documents

Prison Beyond Punishment sig

A Florida appellate court has ruled that the Florida Department of Corrections did not violate the public records law when it redacted prison documents and inmate records sought by the Miami Herald but failed to specify the legal authority for each redaction.

In an unanimous opinion, a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee concluded that Florida's Sunshine laws do not require the agency to explain each redaction when it responded to the Herald's public record requests in 2014 and 2015. 

However, Judge Stephanie Ray acknowledged in a concurring opinion that an agency's use of exemptions could render the state's Sunshine law "meaningless." She said the Monday ruling should "not foreclose a future challenge" to an agency's use of the public records act.  

The dispute arose after the Miami Herald sought numerous documents from FDC as part of its extensive investigation, Beyond Punishment, that uncovered details about inmate deaths and allegations of abuse and cover-up at the state's prison agency. The department provided many documents with numerous sections blacked out, and attached a standard form with checkboxes identifying five statutory citations it claimed justified the exemptions. 

The process did not allow the Herald to validate whether the redactions were appropriate because the agency did not specify which exemption applied to which redaction. The Herald filed a complaint for injunctive and mandamus relief pursuant to chapter 119, Florida's public records law, and asked a court to compel FDC to provide the information.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds initially ruled against the Herald last year, suggesting that "a requestor of public records is entitled to the specific exemptions relied upon for each redaction in every circumstance."

But, four months later, Reynolds reconsidered his initial ruling and ordered the agency to cite the exemption for each specific redaction.

"What I am requiring is that there be some type of footnoting,” Reynolds said at the hearing. He suggested each redaction be listed with numbers corresponding to a “key” or index of the statutory exemptions relied upon by the agency for each record at issue.

The agency appealed, arguing that the requirement exceeded the requirements in the law. By reversing the ruling, the court leaves leaves unsettled how far an agency can go to make redactions to a public record. 

State law requires that state and local governments provide a record-by-record identification of claimed exemptions, and, upon request, state in writing and "with particularity" the reasons it concluded a record is exempt.

"As DOC correctly argues, the plain language of this statute does not require the agency to state the basis of the exemption applicable to 'each redaction,'" wrote Judge T. Kent Wetherell in the ruling. "Instead, the statute simply requires the agency to “state the basis of the exemption that [the agency] contends is applicable to the record” and to provide a statutory citation for the exemption."

In her concurring opinion, however, Judge Ray suggests that there may be room for improvement in the law and for a potential legal challenge.

"Given that the undisputed purpose of the Public Records Act is to promote government transparency, Appellees’ concern is significant,'' she wrote. "However, this Court’s opinion should not foreclose a future challenge to an agency’s method of identifying the basis of claimed exemptions in a public records response if it essentially renders the mandates of Florida’s Public Records Act meaningless."  Download DCA ruling on FDC redactions


July 07, 2016

Fearing a 'ticking time bomb,' corrections officers plea for a special session to deal with short-staffing

via @Jknipebrown

Calling Florida prisons “a ticking time bomb,” members of the union representing state corrections officers called on Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers on Wednesday to convene an emergency legislative session to address the state’s prison crisis.

One recent riot, several inmate uprisings, and widespread attacks on officers and inmates have alarmed members of Teamsters 2011, the union representing the state’s 2,000 corrections and probation officers.

“We recognize that this request is extraordinary, however under the present circumstances, it is necessary to prevent imminent harm and necessary for the safety of our officers,” wrote Kimberly Schultz, an elected delegate and candidate for president of the union, wrote to the governor, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The odds of lawmakers agreeing to a special session are slim. Several Orlando-based Democrats have spent the past two weeks trying to convene a special session on gun control reforms but were unsuccessful, falling 46 votes short — with lawmakers divided along party lines.

Gardiner had not yet seen Schultz’s letter, and the Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Crisafulli. Both lawmakers are Republicans. Story here. 

June 28, 2016

Legislator visits prison, finds kids forced to dump food trays in the trash -- for talking

Richardson and ReidIt was lunch time and the newly arrived teenage inmates had just filed into the mess hall at Sumter Correctional Institution, sat down with their lunch trays and began eating. Some of them started talking — just like the inmates who’d been there longer were doing at nearby tables.

But their supervising officer considered the newbies disruptive. He warned them. They continued. Within minutes, Officer Alexander was ordering the nearly 15 inmates to stand up and dump their lunch trays in the trash. He then ordered them back into their dorm.

That’s where state Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat from Miami Beach, found them. 

Richardson was at the Central Florida prison in Bushnell on one of his routine visits to the state’s largest male youthful offender programs. Richardson randomly selected six of the 14- to 17-year-olds to speak with him and, one-by-one, started asking questions.

“How’s your day going?” Richardson said he asked.

“Not very good,” was the reply. “We were just at the lunch room and a couple of people were talking and the guard told us to go and dump all our food in the trash.” All six inmates identified Alexander as responsible. The agency, citing the ongoing investigation, would not reveal Alexander’s first name or any other information about him.

Depriving inmates of food is against the law in Florida’s prisons but when it happens, it rarely gets reported. Richardson complained and FDC responded immediately. They removed Alexander from contact with the inmates who had been in prison less than three weeks. The inmates were supplied with another tray of food, and FDC opened an investigation to determine what discipline to take against Alexander. Story here. 

Photo: Rep. David Richardson visiting Suwannee Correctional Institution earlier this year. 

Panel rips prison agency for retaliating against whistleblower but says violations aren't criminal

DOC compliance reviewThe Department of Corrections wrongly turned its investigative might against one of its own — violating its own policies, stacking up allegations against a whistleblower, and spending more time focused on investigating him than they spent on probing a claim of inmate abuse, a law enforcement panel ruled late Tuesday
The three-member Compliance Review Panel was charged with deciding if the department was guilty of criminal misconduct for intentionally retaliating against Doug Glisson, a senior investigator at the Department of Corrections who since 2014 has accused his bosses of covering up inmate abuse and agency corruption.
Their ruling was that the agency had violated Glisson’s rights, breached its own protocol, allowed for harassing behavior, and failed to follow the law when his bosses subjected him to six internal affairs investigations. But, they said, the conduct was not criminal. 
“The panel does not believe there was overwhelming intent” that the investigator who conducted the investigation against Glisson, Brian Falstrom, intentionally violated Glisson’s rights, the panel wrote in a two-page ruling. Falstrom “did not receive adequate training or had the prior experience to conduct the internal affairs investigations into the allegations.”
The panel, instead, directed its blame on the department, particularly former Chief Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, Glisson’s boss who was reassigned earlier this year. 
Glisson and three fellow investigators claim that Beasley had dismissed their call to investigate the gassing death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. They told a state Senate committee in February 2015 that Beasley had directed them to back off investigating that case and others and, a day after the committee grilled Beasley, Glisson was hit with the six internal investigations. 
The panel raised several concerns about the agency’s treatment of Glisson, saying it had “great concern” regarding the six internal investigations launched between August 2014 and February 2015 without notifying Glisson, then dumping them all on him on the day after the Senate hearing. Story here. 

Photo: Department of Corrections Compliance Review Hearing, Tuesday, June 28. Seated at the table from left: Attorney Steve Andrews, Marty Snow, inspector general FHSMV, David Odom, Tallahassee Police Department, David Clark, FDC inspector, David Falstrom, FDC inspector. Credit: Mary Ellen Klas

Continue reading "Panel rips prison agency for retaliating against whistleblower but says violations aren't criminal" »

June 22, 2016

Four years after brutal Florida prison death, no punishment but lack of trust, disclosure and confidence

Raineyvia JKnipeBrown

One thousand four hundred and sixty one days.

That’s how long it’s been since Darren Rainey was forced into a shower by officers at Dade Correctional Institution and left there, under a blistering spray of scalding water, for nearly two hours. It’s been four years since Rainey screamed and begged to be let out of the small stall before finally collapsing in a heap, his skin peeling.

Since Rainey’s death, it was discovered that he and other mentally ill inmates at the prison had been tortured, beaten, starved and left to sleep in their own excrement. They were doused with buckets of chemicals, over-medicated, kept in extended isolation and placed in painfully cold or blistering showers as punishment for behavior caused mostly by their own illnesses.

While Rainey’s death has led to some reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill in Florida prisons, the prison system remains dangerously understaffed and rife with violence, as evidenced by recent riots and turmoil at Franklin Correctional Institution in north-central Florida.

Details of the June 9 incident at Franklin haven’t been made public, and may never be known. The absence of transparency by the agency, critics say, has bred distrust and a lack of confidence that the prison system is truly taking the steps necessary to keep inmates, officers and the public secure. Story here. 

June 10, 2016

Prison riot at North Florida prison causes extensive damages, no injuries

Inmates broke through a concrete and brick dorm wall, smashed bathroom fixtures, pulled out toilets and left two dorms uninhabitable during a late-night riot at Franklin Correctional Institution in North Florida late Thursday that resulted in extensive damage but no injuries.

The riot involved an estimated 300 inmates, prison officials confirmed.

"Nobody's been hurt and the situation is under control." said Alberto Moscoso, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. He called it a "security-related incident involving a dynamic mixture of inmates."

Inmates in the damaged Dorms E and F were bused to other facilities early Friday after the disturbance, which began at about 11 p.m. Thursday night, Moscoso confirmed. The prison, which has the capacity to house more than 1,200 inmates, was then placed on lockdown “as a precaution,’’ he said.

"Utilizing a trained tactical response, department staff quickly and effectively quelled the situation,'' he said in a statement. "Due in no small part to the judgment and professionalism of the responding officers, there were no serious injuries to either inmates or employees."

This is the second major disturbance at a Franklin Correctional since January and the third at a prison this year. In April, a corrections officer was ambushed and stabbed, and several other officers injured, during a fight at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City. The officer injured during that incident was airlifted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

In January, Florida prison officials quelled a riot at Franklin by firing warnings shots and shooting inmates with non-lethal pellets.

For the past year, three outside audits of the Department of Corrections have that dangerously low staffing levels leave the agency vulnerable to inmate disruptions at the state's 49 prisons. 

But cuts made during the recession have not been restored and officers have been required to work overtime to cover extra shifts while many positions are left with one officer responsible for  two assignments -- a practice known as "ghosting."

FDC  Secretary Julie Jones has acknowledged for months that state prisons are dangerously understaffed — and that they’ve narrowly avoided inmate riots. She asked legislators for $36 million to fund 734 new officer positions that Jones called “imperative’’ to improve staffing conditions by reducing shifts from 12 hours to eight hours, reducing overtime and fatigue.

But Legislators rejected Jones' request and instead provided funding for only 215 new officers.

"These types of instances are symptoms of an underlying problem within the Department of Corrections that the Legislature is just beginning to understand,'' said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who called for one of the outside audits in 2015. "The short term may be more more money but the solution over the long term is more challenging."

He cited the findings of the reports which found "we can recruit officers but retention is abysmal. We're losing our prison guards every year and often our facilities are guarded by junior, unseasoned corrections officers."

"You've got to triage the next couple of years but ultimately come through with solutions to treat the underlying problems,'' he said. 

Moscoso would not comment on the staffing levels at Franklin but acknowledged: "Staffing is an issue across all our institutions acrsos the state right now.'' 

The agency will conduct an investigation of the incident to determine and evaluate the response, he said.

June 02, 2016

Officer at Florida women's prison arrested for sex with inmates

by @JKnipeBrown

An officer with a history of misconduct complaints was arrested Wednesday on charges that he sexually abused two inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, authorities said.

The arrest marks the first time that an officer at the prison has been charged with a sex-related crime, and is the sixth arrest of a Lowell officer since the Miami Herald published a series in December about female prisoners who had been abused, threatened or forced to have sex with guards.

The yearlong investigation found that nearly every time an inmate filed a complaint against an officer, she was sent to confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration where inmates are kept in a small cell with little more than the clothes on their back for weeks or even months. The women who complied with the officers’ sex demands, however, were rewarded with better treatment, with cheeseburgers and other free-world food, and with basic necessities, like soap and toilet paper, that were always in short supply.

Marion County Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said the arrest Wednesday should be considered a warning to other officers at the prison. Story here.

May 31, 2016

Prison investigators, now demoted, raise heat on agency with lawsuit and allegations of interference

Miguel note re AntonacciCharges of corruption against the Florida Department of Corrections escalated Tuesday as two demoted senior investigators filed a new lawsuit, accusing the agency of retaliating against them for alleging cover-ups, inmate abuse and political interference on behalf of a company whose lead lobbyist became the governor’s general counsel.

In the 544-page compliant filed Tuesday in circuit court in Leon County, Doug Glisson and John Ulm allege that their bosses systematically tried to discredit them and set them up for demotions by concocting charges, violating agency procedures and even forging signatures. 

They claim that the governor’s office has wielded influence over agency investigations and point to both the governor’s former top lawyer, Pete Antonacci, and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, as being involved.

Glisson and Ulm, both senior investigators in the Office of Inspector General, were demoted in May after spending the past two years speaking out. In testimony before a state Senate committee last year, they alleged that their boss, then-Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, covered up evidence of inmate abuse, dismissed allegations of impropriety by those close to him and failed to properly police violent corrections officers. They are asking the court to order their reinstatement and for the state to pay all attorney fees and lost wages.

FDC spokesman Alberto Moscoso said the agency would not comment “on active or pending litigation [that] involves the agency or any of our current or former members.”

The dozens of supporting documents filed with the court include copies of agency reports, emails and investigations that show the agency conducted a series of internal investigations into Glisson and Ulm. The inspectors allege the investigations were assigned to officers who took directions from Beasley or had conflicts of interest.

Glisson and Ulm also allege that Beasley ordered Ulm to close an investigation into the department’s former food vendor, U.S. Foods, after the company was accused of serving inmates tainted meat and engaging in deceitful billing.

In a July 2015 letter to Beasley, Ulm suggested that U.S. Foods’ former lobbyist — Pete Antonacci, the governor’s general counsel, who now serves as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District — should be questioned as should “conspirators and persons of interest” in the case. Ulm believed that the case should be referred to the federal government “because of the vast amounts of federal money involved” and because, he said, lobbyists were being paid to try to keep the U.S. Foods contracts in effect in Florida despite the allegations.

His email noted that after Antonacci went to work for the governor, U.S. Foods did not hire another lobbyist to be the liaison with the department, suggesting it didn’t need to because of Antonacci’s position of influence.

“This capital connection could come back to cause an embarrassment to [FDC] Secretary [Julie] Jones, as well as the entire Department,’’ Ulm wrote. “I would like you to reconsider your position and directive not to investigate or seek a referral to another agency concerning the various corporations who I now believe fronted for U.S. Foods.” He also indicated he was seeking whistleblower protection. Story here. 

Download Glisson Ulm v DOC complaint

Download Ulm letter re US Foods

Download Miguel notes

Download Ulm letter to Beasley

Photo: Note to the file from the governor’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, indicates she wanted to issue her report but was being told by the governor’s office to wait until after the 2014 election.