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Legislator asks prison secretary Michael Crews to turn over files on cover-up

Darren SotoA state senator is asking the Department of Corrections to turn over documents regarding the cover-up and investigation of suspicious inmate deaths at Florida prisons, warning that the use excessive force may have violated the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, sent the letter to DOC Secretary Michael Crews in response to a Miami Herald report that chief investigators for both Gov. Rick Scott and the agency were told of the suspicious inmate deaths by an anonymous letter writer more than a year before news reports about the deaths prompted the agency to crackdown on abusive guards.  

"If they did receive information and nobody did anything about it, we may have to replace some of the auditors,'' said Soto, a member of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee which oversees prisons. "I'm worried about the potential liability to the state and the potential of a federal takeover if we are violating the constitution." 

Soto asked for all documents relating to the September 2010 death of Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution and Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional in 2012.

"Regardless of the crimes committee by these individuals, we have a constitutional obligation under the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution to refrain from cruel and unusual punishment and to treat them humanely,'' he wrote to Crews. "These allegations may implicate a direct violation of these rights." Download 9.26.14 Soto Letter to Secretary Crews

Crews responded that a web site he has developed to post details about inmate deaths already provides much of what he is seeking.

“Information on active investigations is currently in the possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Miami-Dade Police Department,'' he said. "Upon the conclusion of these investigations, all releasable information will be made available to the public via the department’s online transparency database."

He added that the agency is "committed to transparency and accountability" and repeated this pledge to "maintain a zero tolerance policy for corruption and abuse" and "will continue to rid the department of those who do not comply with this policy.” 

As a member of the budget committee that has cut the prison budget for several years, Soto said he was concerned that the increase in excessive force at state prisons may also be the result of staff cutbacks.

"We're understaffed at these prisons and that is putting pressure on these corrections officers who may be using force as a last resort,'' he said. "This is just further evidence that overseeing our criminal justice system in Florida requires constant vigilance." 

Photo: Darren Soto, courtesy of the Florida Senate