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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