The death of mentally ill inmate, Darren Rainey, and the way the Florida Department of Corrections handled the investigation spurred the agency to enact a series of reforms to combat prison abuse at its correctional facilities. Now, the department is facing a suit from Rainey’s family—which has revealed new details surrounding his death two years ago in a South Florida prison.
The 15-page brief outlines the events leading up to Rainey’s death. During a schizophrenic episode, it says Rainey smeared feces on his face.
So, it states as a form of punishment by prison guards at Dade Correctional Rainey received the “shower treatment.” After he was locked in a scalding hot shower for two hours, two guards found him unresponsive and about 40 minutes later he was pronounced dead.
The brief reveals that the temperature was close to 105 degrees. A medical note showed more than 90 percent of Rainey’s body was burned and his skin came off when touched.
Peter Sleasman is an attorney who represents the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project and Disability Rights Florida, which is representing the Rainey’s family in the suit.
In addition to the Florida Department of Corrections, it’s filed against the former prison guards involved in the alleged abuse as well as Corizon—the healthcare provider in charge during the time of Rainey’s death. And, the investigation into his death is still ongoing.
“We have spoken to numerous inmates who are both currently housed in the unit and are former residents of the inpatient unit down there, and it became apparent that Mr. Rainey’s death and the treatment of Mr. Rainey was not just an isolated incident, but in fact, reflected an ongoing pattern and reflected widespread abuse of the mentally ill inmates who were housed in that unit,” said Sleasman, during an interview with WFSU months ago.
He added, “So, we have been watching their investigations—or probably more appropriately, the lack of investigations of the situations down there and we became very concerned that the steps that had been taken by the department so far were inadequate.”
The mental health advocacy group Sleasman represents also filed a similar suit in federal court months ago, on behalf of mentally ill inmates currently housed in the same facility.
“The lawsuit is against the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and against the private corporation that provides health care, including mental health care, down at that unit,” he said. “And, the lawsuit doesn’t seek damages, but rather seeks to get the court order remedies that will ensure these abuses don’t happen again.”
And, Steven Albers agrees. Take a look at his business card, and he’s a jack of all trades as a carpenter, a handy man, and a builder.
The 49-year-old was also once an inmate at Dade Correctional Institution, where he says he encountered abuse by prison guards.
“At Dade CI, a guard broke my hip for not standing in the rain,” said Albers, during a protest at the Capitol a couple weeks ago. “Later on, he punched someone in the face. They caught it on camera that he lied. They fired him, and then they gave him his job back. There’s no accountability. There’s no rules being followed. Them officers rule everything and they do what they want.”
At one point, he says he was also housed in the same inpatient health unit as Rainey, adding that guards treated inmates badly. While he was there, it was under the direction of Charles Mccray, Dade’s Director of Corrections, at the time.
“They [the guards] degrade them basically and humiliate them,” said Albers. “That whole camp—Captain Mccray was running it, and they called him Debo for short for the movie ‘Friday’ because he was so mean and he would keep people from eating just for talking in line, and these are mentally ill people…so, some talked to themselves.”
Albers also recalled a time when he says he became delusional because he was taken off his meds and he was then locked in a shower.
“Then I started spitting water out while I was taking a shower because I was delusional,” he recalled. “And, one guy walked in with his boots on, and then three of them said I spit on them, which I didn’t.”
But, he says what came after is what really troubles him.
“They were supposed to have the camera running before they jumped on me with the CERT team [Correctional Emergency Response Team]; they didn’t,” said Albers. “And, when I complained, nothing was done. When I went to the Inspector General’s, they didn’t want do nothing about it, even though they violated the rule. When you use the force, you’re supposed to video camcorder everything. I was never even asked to comply to handcuffs before they jumped on me, which is by rule, they’re supposed to.”
And, it’s alleged behavior like that, that Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews has continually said he won’t tolerate at his agency.
“In our agency, we’re going to be open and transparent, and when these allegations come forward, we’re going to take them seriously and we’re going to vet them through the process that we have in place that we have currently in place through an investigation—whether that be through our office of our Inspector General or with the new partnership we have with the FDLE,” said Crews, in late October.
It’s a difficult life being incarcerated. And, right now, with a lot of the things that have been exposed in the media over the past several months, if I had a son or a daughter or a loved one in the institution, I would be concerned too.”
Crews has said he hopes the investigation into Rainey’s death will come to a close soon. He’s also been working on implementing several reforms—the latest one: hiring a mental health ombudsman. In addition, he recently met and talked with a group of protestors who either had imprisoned loved ones or were imprisoned themselves, which includes Albers. Both sides parted ways amicably, noting that there are good prison guards within the prison system.
Meanwhile, since last month, close to 50 prison guards have been fired due to prison abuse allegations.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.