July 09, 2014

State and federal investigators open new probes into inmate deaths

New investigations are underway by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the deaths of three inmates whose bodies were found in state prisons over the Fourth of July weekend, authorities confirmed Wednesday.

The deaths bring the total open, in-custody state prison death cases under scrutiny to 10 — nine of them being handled by the FDLE.

The Miami Herald also confirmed Wednesday that an FBI investigation is ongoing at Suwannee Correctional facility, the site of an October prison riot by inmates who attacked five prison guards. In April, Shawn Gooden, 33, died under mysterious circumstances at Suwannee, and his death is also under investigation by the FDLE. Inmates there have long complained of violence, abuse and corruption at the prison, located in Live Oak, just west of Lake City.

The FDLE would not release any information about the new deaths, except to say that two of them happened at Hamilton Correctional Institution and the third at Columbia Correctional. More here. 

Meanwhile, it's been nearly two years since Frank Smith, a 44-year-old inmate from Miami, died under suspicious circumstances at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford and the Department of Corrections has offered no reasons for his death.
 
The 10 employees who were suspended over the incident are still on leave and drawing full pay. Smith died on Sept. 4, 2012, after a violent altercation with officers as he was being moved from a prison hospital to his cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

The Department of Corrections placed 10 staff members, including an assistant warden, on paid leave, a routine step when employees are suspected of wrongdoing. So far, taxpayers have paid nearly $700,000 in salaries to them.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement took control of the case 21 months ago and FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the investigation continues. He said the delay could be due to the time needed to complete toxicology reports.

“There’s no timeline that I can give you” on when the investigation will end, Bailey said.

The Alachua County Medical Examiner has declined to release details of Smith’s autopsy, citing the investigation. Gainesville-area State Attorney Bill Cervone said Wednesday that nothing has been presented to his office for possible prosecution. More on Smith here. 

-- By Julie K. Brown and Steve Bousquet

 

Ethics complaint: Crist failed to report income, car lease on financial disclosure forms

An ethics complaint filed Wednesday is calling additional attention to Charlie Crist's finances.

The complaint, filed by Sarasota Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters, alleges that the Democratic candidate for governor failed to disclose two liabilities: his leases on a Jeep Cherokee and a St. Petersburg apartment. Crist mentioned both the car and the condo in a June 17 interview with the Herald/Times.

"As a result of this failure to substantially comply with financial disclosure obligations, Florida voters do not have an accurate picture of Mr. Crist's actual net worth," Gruters wrote in the complaint.

Gruters also said Crist had "misrepresented the nature of his financial relationship" with the St. Joe Company, a Panhandle-based real estate firm. Crist reported income for consulting with the company. But the complaint alleges he did not report "the full extent of his relationship" with St. Joe's because he had earned less pay for similar services the year before.

The complaint also blasts for Crist for not reporting any "income" through his consulting company, Charlie Crist, LLC.

"In no way does Mr. Crist report any income resulting from Charlie Crist, LLC and in no way does Mr. Crist reveal the extent of his ownership interest in the entity itself or any of its underlying assets as required," Gruters wrote.

Crist does, however, list the company's bank account as an asset worth $128.884.

Crist has recently come under fire for failing to release his wife's tax returns.

"Charlie Crist is cutting legal corners again," Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said. "This time it is to avoid transparency on his personal financial disclosure." 

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate called the ethics complaint "another pathetic flail" from the Scott campaign.

Read the complaint below.

Download 7.9.14

Broward absentee ballot requests are up compared to '10

Absentee ballot requests for the primary in Broward County have already surpassed the number during the 2010 primary.

As of early July, Broward received 110,505 absentee ballot requests for the primary election. In 2010, the county mailed 86,465 absentee ballots for the primary, said Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. (Not everyone who requests an absentee ballot ultimately uses that ballot to vote so it isn’t a concrete prediction of turnout.)

Democrats hoping to oust Republican Gov. Rick Scott this year will focus considerable effort on Broward County because it has the second biggest contingent of Democratic voters behind Miami-Dade. Broward’s 41 percent turnout in the 2010 general election was one of the factors in Democrat Alex Sink’s loss to Scott. This year, former state legislator Nan Rich of Weston faces former Gov. Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary and there are also some primaries in local races.

Crist has held several fundraisers here and has one tonight at YOLO, a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. On Tuesday night he house hopped for fundraisers at the homes of three Democratic mayors: Joy Cooper in Hallandale Beach, Peter Bober in Hollywood and Frank Ortis in Pembroke Pines.  

Scott has also held several public events in Broward in recent months including at a Cuban restaurant in Oakland Park which he used as a backdrop for this Spanish-language ad.

Broward plans to start sending domestic absentee ballots to voters July 22.

 

 

 

Florida business groups join in push for immigration reform

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida joined forces with faith-based leaders Wednesday to call for national immigration reform.  

"Inaction by Congress is not a path forward," said Leticia Adams, the chamber's director of infrastructure and governance policy. "The problems with our immigration system have grown and multiplied, and have become a threat to the productivity of key industries in Florida."

The press conference Tallahassee was part of a national "day of action" that included at least 60 other events.

Taking part in the national effort: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership for a New American Economy, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Western Growers.

At the Tallahassee news conference, leaders in the business and education communities blasted Congress for failing to take action. 

"This issue is not going away and we run the danger of it getting worse, from a national security perspective, from an economic perspective and from a humanitarian perspective," said Rudy Fernandez, a professor at the University of Miami and former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush

Fernandez held up polling data showing that both Democrats and Republicans believe the U.S. immigration system is broken. A recent Harper poll, he said, found that 71 percent of Republicans would rather choose a presidential candidate from a party that supports immigration reform than from a party that opposes it.

A Florida media call is scheduled for 1 p.m. with Brewster Bevis, of the Associated Industries of Florida; Steve Johnson, of the Florida Farm Bureau; and Al Cardenas, the former Chairman of the American Conservative Union.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Farm Bureau and Associated Industries of Florida are heavily funded by industries that rely on migrant and immigrant workers.

Layoffs, service cuts abound in Miami-Dade mayor's proposed county budget

@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Tuesday proposed a county budget for next year that, to avoid a property-tax rate hike, would eliminate hundreds of police jobs, close a golf course, trim hours at Zoo Miami, and raise Metrorail and Metrobus fares for the second year in a row.

Public libraries would remain open — but with far fewer full-time librarians. Two successful programs to help youth offenders would be scrapped. Subsidies for community-based organizations that provide social services would get a 10 percent cut.

To close a $64 million budget deficit, 674 positions would be eliminated across county government, which has a work force of about 25,000. Because many of the jobs are already vacant, it’s likely that the number of actual pink slips would be smaller.

The tax rate set each year by county commissioners would remain flat under Gimenez’s 2014-15 proposal. A separate portion of taxes that pays for voter-approved construction projects would go up 6 percent, thanks largely to last year’s $830 million bond referendum for the Jackson Health System.

A homeowner in an unincorporated neighborhood such as Kendall with a taxable property value of $200,000 would pay an additional $5.34 in county taxes, which are only part of a total tax bill. That’s without taking into account any increase in property values, which rose by an average of 6.8 percent in Miami-Dade this year.

More here.

July 08, 2014

Former DOC chief McDonough rebukes Scott staff over prison allegations: 'Where is the outrage?'

Former Department of Corrections Chief James McDonough said Tuesday that events at his former agency "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?"
 
For the last month, Brown has chronicled how an inmate was herded into a scorching hot shower and left until he collapsed and died, how another inmate 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, and how officials covered up the deaths once they were investigated.
 
DOC officials who discovered the death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution said the prison’s medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors later conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events of the inmate’s death.
 
Four of those investigators complained to DOC officials and Gov. Rick Scott's inspector general Melinda Miguel but, when nothing was done, they filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit on Monday -- against the governor, Miguel and the agency. The lawsuit alleges they have been retaliated against. 
 
"The IG whistle blower complaint has been filed by pros,'' McDonough continued. "They surely complained within the system as the cases were originally being investigated, and they would have run those complaints up the chain of command.  The names I see among them are mature, responsible, and conscientious.  They understand the parameters of use of force, its necessity, and its limits.   Whistle blowing would have been the last option exercised.  They must have been both frustrated and outraged at the inhumanity. 
 
"Where is the outrage from those in charge, within the department and beyond?," he asked.
 
DOC Secretary Michael Crews issued a statement on Tuesday  after the Miami Herald reported on the whistleblower lawsuit. He said the matter is being investigated by DOC and that "any individuals within its Department accountable if they are found of any wrongdoing."

Forty sheriffs, five of them Democrats, endorse Scott

Gov. Rick Scott's campaign announced endorsements Tuesday from 40 sheriffs, including four from Tampa Bay.

The list included five Democratic sheriffs: Susan Benton of Highlands, Jeff Hardy of Putnam, Gordon Smith of Bradford, Steve Whidden of Hendry and Stuart Whiddon of Glades.

Those are small, conservative counties where sheriffs have a lot of clout. Voter turnout percentages in off-year elections typically are higher in small counties. (Sheriffs are not up for election this year. They run for four-year terms on the same cycle as presidential elections).

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger endorsed Scott. Remember him? Eslinger was one of the four names on Scott's supposed short list of possible picks for lieutenant governor last fall, before he chose former Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

"Sheriffs for Scott" also includes Hillsborough's David Gee, Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas, Chris Nocco of Pasco and Al Nienhuis of Hernando. Nocco was appointed by Scott in 2011. Nienhuis was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

In a statement released by Scott's campaign, Gualtieri said: "We need a strong and decisive governor to make the hard decisions that ensure further crime reductions in a cost efficient manner, and Rick Scott is the only candidate who will do that."

 

In wake of accusations of widespread corruption at DOC, Crews promises accountability

After the drumbeat of allegations about years of widespread corruption, inmate abuse and mismanagement at the Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews on Tuesday vowed to "hold any individuals within its Department accountable if they are found of any wrongdoing."

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.

The four officials 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. The officers also accuse Inspector General Jeffrey Beasley of interfering with investigations. Here's the transcript of their recorded interview at DOC detailing their allegations:  Download 2014.03.04 CIG INTERVIEW - LAND - CONDENSED (1)

Here's the DOC press release today:

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Michael Crews made the following statement as DOC vows to hold any individuals within its Department accountable if they are found of any wrongdoing. 

Secretary Crews said: “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.”

 

Rep. Joe Garcia offers ideas for fixing VA

@dchangmiami

After a series of visits to VA clinics in his district, and closed-door meetings with South Florida veterans and administrators for the Miami VA Healthcare System, Congressman Joe Garcia this week publicized a list of recommendations for improving local VA services. 

Garcia’s recommendations, outlined in a white paper released Monday, address issues such as timely access to care, a lack of mental health services in some areas, and deteriorating facilities.

The Miami VA operates clinics from Deerfield Beach to Key West, and most of the facilities identified in Garcia’s recommendations are located in Homestead and the Florida Keys. 

The paper does not address how the VA would accomplish the recommended actions, such as investing in “21st century physical facilities” or “expanding the availability of psychiatric and psychological services” in Florida Keys clinics. 

But a spokeswoman for Garcia noted that Miami VA administrators already have begun to implement some of the congressman’s recommendations, such as expanding clinic hours in Homestead, and hiring a new social worker and nurse in Key West.

Miami VA officials did not return a call for comment on Garcia’s recommendations Monday.

--DANIEL CHANG

State investigators accuse Dept of Corrections of systemic corruption

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.

For weeks, the Miami Herald has reported on claims of abusive treatment by corrections officers, as related by inmates, nurses and a psychotherapist, primarily at Dade Correctional Institution, where an inmate was herded into a scorching hot shower and left until he collapsed and died. Now claims of abuse are coming from DOC investigators, the persons charged with rooting out such abuses.

“We have zero tolerance for unethical behavior, and take any allegations of abuse seriously,” said Melinda Miguel, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general. “An investigation into these allegations is currently active, and upon the conclusion of the investigation information will be made publicly available.”

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. More from Julie K. Brown here.