Back in 2012, an inmate at a prison south of Miami was pulled out of the shower with his body burned so badly that his skin fell off at the touch. It later emerged that he had been kept in that shower for some two hours, and the water in that shower was hot enough to boil noodles. Despite this, the local prosecutor announced on Friday that she will not seek criminal charges in this case.
Miami-Dade County State’s Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that no charges will be filed in the death of Darren Rainey after finding that there was no evidence to suggest four corrections officers who put him into a shower at Dade Correctional Institution committed a crime. Watch more details here from WFOR-TV in Miami.
That finding seems almost beyond belief when the facts of this case are considered. Rainey was serving two months in prison for cocaine possession. He was sent to Dade Correctional Institution, located roughly halfway between Florida City and Homestead in far south Miami-Dade County. He had long suffered from schizophrenia, and was housed in the prison’s Transitional Care Unit for mentally ill inmates. Early on the night of June 23, Rainey defecated in his cell–most likely triggered by a psychotic episode.
Corrections officers then took him to the shower. Several inmates say that they heard Rainey kicking the door and screaming, “Please take me out! I can’t take it anymore!” Two hours later, when officers came to take Rainey out, they found him unresponsive, and he was pronounced dead at 10:07 p.m.
Nurses who examined Rainey found that he had burns over 90 percent of his body, and his skin flaked off at the touch. They also said that the water supply came through a hose controlled by the guards. It turned out that the water in the shower had been ramped up to 180 degrees–hot enough to steep tea or cook noodles, and well above state limits. One nurse said that Rainey’s body temperature was literally too high to be measured with a thermometer. In other words–Rainey had literally been boiled alive.
And yet, in the face of all of this, Fernandez Rundle found that “the shower itself was neither dangerous nor unsafe,” and that there was no evidence the guards “grossly disregarded” Rainey’s well-being. Therefore, Fernandez Rundle concluded, there was no evidence to support even a manslaughter charge against the corrections officers who dealt with him.
That conclusion, on the face of it, was based on an investigation that was seriously flawed at best. For one thing, Fernandez Rundle didn’t seem to give any weight to the numerous reports of abuse that took place at the prison. Julie Brown of The Miami Herald took a closer look at the conditions at the prison after Rainey’s death, and discussed them in 2014 on WPLG in Miami. Watch here.
Eventually, a series of scathing articles in The Herald revealed evidence that those in the know about Rainey’s death engaged in a massive cover-up. As a result, Dade Correctional’s warden and assistant warden were pushed out, and state corrections secretary Michael Crews resigned under growing political pressure.
Fernandez Rundle’s investigators didn’t interview a number of witnesses who had some nightmarish stories to tell. One of them was Harriet Krzykowski, a staff counselor who was frequently bullied and harassed after speaking out about conditions at the jail. She and others told The Herald that they were pressured into keeping quiet–both formally by supervisors, and informally by corrections officers who hinted they wouldn’t protect them from unstable inmates if they spoke out.
They also seemed to go out of their way to discredit inmates’ accounts as unreliable–a course that hardly seems defensible when they had evidence that prison officials were covering things up. Additionally, despite the grotesque condition in which the nurse’s found Rainey, an autopsy conducted in 2016 found that there were no burns on his body.
The Rainey family is pursuing a federal civil rights suit against the state Department of Corrections. In a colossal understatement, their attorney, Milton Grimes, said he was “appalled” at the decision not to pursue the case further. We should all be appalled. The fact that there was a cover-up would be by itself enough to merit further investigation. Fernandez Rundle should be ashamed of herself.
(featured image: screenshot courtesy WFOR-TV)