WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Attorneys Parks, Crump Call On Feds To Investigate Recent Florida Prison Death

Florida Department of Correction's website

A recent inmate death at a North Florida Correctional facility has some calling for federal officials to step in and address what they call a “culture of inmate abuse” within the Florida prison system.

Latandra Ellington was an inmate at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, serving about two years in prison for fraud. Weeks ago, Tallahassee Attorney Darryl Parks says the 36-year-old sent two letters to her aunt, saying she felt threatened by guards. So, he says Ellington’s aunt called the facility and left a message.

“An officer at the facility called back with Latandra present, and the officer let her aunt know that they would look after her, make sure she was safe. Well, by noon, October 1st, Latandra was dead,” said Parks, during a Tallahassee press conference Tuesday.

Parks says the prison has given the family no details, and Parks and his partner, Benjamin Crump—who also represent the Trayvon Martin family—scheduled an independent autopsy. And, Parks says the preliminary findings indicate blunt force trauma.

Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM
Tallahassee attorneys Daryl Parks (left) and Benjamin Crump (middle) joined by former DOC employee George Mallinckrodt (right) during a press conference Monday.

“And, Dr. [William] Anderson reported to us that he found evidence of abdominal hemorrhaging there—abdominal hemorrhaging from his examination that had to be caused by kicking or punching of Latandra,” he added.

So, Crump says it’s time to get the federal authorities involved to stop what he calls this “culture of abuse.” The Department of Corrections has been in the news lately for alleged inmate abuse and its handling of the investigations.

“When you have an inmate saying she feels threatened by a guard, and then within 18 hours, she’s found dead, then that is something that warrants the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. It warrants the attention of the U.S. Attorney. It warrants the attention of the Attorney General,” said Crump.

On Monday, the Tallahassee attorneys sent a letter to U.S. Department of Justice and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder asking them to investigate Ellington’s case.

According to the Associated Press, here's the response from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Corrections:

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency is investigating the woman's death. The Department of Corrections released a statement that said "this was an unattended death" and did not provide many details due to the ongoing investigation. It stated Ellington was in "administrative confinement" because the department took seriously the concerns about "alleged threats to her safety." "The security and safety of our inmates and staff is a priority of the Department," Department of Corrections secretary Michael Crews said in the statement. "Warden (Gustavo) Mazorra notified me of every available detail related to inmate Ellington with a thorough briefing very quickly after the incident, and an investigation was immediately begun. "If evidence shows any wrongdoing by any Department staff, knowing the facts as soon as possible will allow us to take any appropriate actions quickly."

Stay tuned to Friday's Capital Report for more on this story!

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.