Some Not Buying State Attorney Report Calling Mentally Ill Inmate's Death Accidental

Mar 20, 2017

Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate, who died in a scalding, hot shower years ago.
Credit Florida Department of Corrections

No correctional officers are responsible for the scalding hot shower death of mentally ill inmate Darren Rainey. That’s according to Miami Dade’s State Attorney, who released a report concluding just that. But, some people aren’t buying it.

Back in 2014, then Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews promised he’d fire anyone involved in the death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution. Guards took Rainey to the showers after he’d smeared human waste all over himself.

“On June 23, 2012, Darren Rainey died in our correctional facility,” he said, at the time. “There have since been numerous reports and allegations that officers at this institution placed him in a scalding hot shower as punishment, which resulted in his death. That’s why we are fully prepared to move forward with any disciplinary actions, including terminations of anyone involved in the June 2012 death.”

And, later, after multiple firings and resignations, Crews along with lawmakers spoke of the important need for reforms.

“The case of Darren Rainey heightened our awareness of the challenges faced both by inmates with mental illnesses as well as the correctional officers that are tasked with supervising and overseeing these inmates while in our custody,” he said, at a press conference.

Included in those reforms was having the Florida Department of Law Enforcement review cases of suspicious deaths. There was also expanded officer training on how to handle mentally ill inmates.

Just last week, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) also mentioned Rainey as one of the reasons why Florida lawmakers need to continually reform the criminal justice system.

“An individual died in a shower who was mentally ill and was scalded to death,” he said, during a Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “He was literally burned to death, and no one’s ever been arrested. And, there’s been other suspicious things that have occurred in these systems. And, at some point in time, I don’t know what it takes to wake everyone up to know that we have a problem. But, we have a problem and to fix a problem, you have to recognize that there’s a problem. I know that we can do something.”

But, now some five years after Rainey’s death, Miami Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has decided to close the investigation without filing any criminal charges.

A 101-page report released this past Friday ruled Rainey’s death accidental due to complications of schizophrenia, heart disease, and confinement in a shower.

Fernandez-Rundle also deemed there was no malice or premeditated intent to kill on the part of the correctional officers. And, she further concluded the shower used in the Rainey incident has never proven to be unsafe, adding there were no burns on the body—according to the Medical Examiner.

But, George Mallinckrodt calls that “flimsy.” The Psychotherapist was a former mental health counselor at Dade CI.

“We were part of an environment where guards regularly taunted, tormented, abused, starved, and beat our patients and I don’t think that the State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle really knew what was happening in the unit,” he said. “It was almost as if she took the guards’ account as truth. And, I know from working there that the guards’ lied regularly on their incident reports.”

Inmates were interviewed as well as part of Fernandez Rundle’s report. But, much of their testimony was viewed as “inconsistent” or “unreliable”—which Mallinckrodt calls unfair.

He says it also doesn’t add up—given reported accounts of some of the prison guards, medical personnel, and inmates who say Rainey’s skin was peeling off on contact.

“For someone lying in reasonably warm water, they’re skin is not going to slip off,” Mallinckrodt said. “I mean that’s absurd. If that were the case, no one would take a warm bath for fear their skin would start to peel off. So, that water was crazy hot.”

Mallinckrodt says what really needs to happen is to bring back a number of criminal justice reforms, like an independent oversight commission over Florida’s prison system.

So far, a bill creating a Criminal Justice Task force just passed its first committee. Lawmakers are also discussing mental health reforms. And, current Prison Chief Julie Jones is asking for funds to establish another mental health unit.

In a statement, Jones thanked the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office as well as other agencies for their work in closing the Rainey investigation. And, she said she remains focused on implementing reforms that will help mentally ill inmates.

Meanwhile, a federal probe into Rainey’s death is still pending.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.