Staff at a Miami-Dade prison tormented, abused mentally ill inmates, former worker says

 

Former and current workers at Dade Correctional Institution allege that guards made “sport’’ out of brutalizing mentally-ill inmates.

 
Darren Rainey, who died after being placed in excruciatingly hot shower by guards as punishment.
Darren Rainey, who died after being placed in excruciatingly hot shower by guards as punishment.
Florida Department of Corrections

jbrown@MiamiHerald.com

Mentally ill inmates at Dade Correctional Institution have been tormented and abused for years, according to three former employees at the psychiatric unit, one of whom filed a complaint last month with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In his complaint, George Mallinckrodt, a psychotherapist assigned to the unit from 2008 to 2011, related a series of episodes, including the death of inmate Darren Rainey. The 50-year-old was placed in a small, enclosed, scalding-hot shower by guards and left unattended for more than an hour. He collapsed and died amid the searing heat, suffering severe burns when he fell, face up, atop the drain.

His death, for which no one has been held accountable, was described in Sunday’s Miami Herald.

Mallinckrodt was no longer with the prison at the time of Rainey’s scalding on June 23, 2012, but says he was told of the incident by a former colleague who remained on staff.

One current corrections officer at the facility, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity, said prisoners in the mental health unit who caused trouble were threatened by guards with the shower treatment.

In his letter, Mallinckrodt said that guards “taunted, tormented, abused, beat, and tortured chronically mentally ill inmates on a regular basis,” hoping to provoke a response so the inmates could then be punished. He described specific incidents of alleged abuse, including the beating of inmate Joseph Swilling, a longtime criminal who showed Mallinckrodt his injuries during an anger management session.

Swilling said guards handcuffed him behind his back and led him into a hallway out of range of video cameras, where they threw him on the floor and repeatedly kicked him.

A murderer who hung himself in the unit last September, Richard Mair, left a suicide note in his shorts accusing guards of sexually abusing inmates and forcing black and white inmates to fight each other for the entertainment of staff.

Mallinckrodt said he filed a variety of complaints with the prison and the Department of Corrections’ inspector general about the abusive treatment, but never received a response. He said he also took his concerns directly to Warden Jerry Cummings.

Mallinckrodt contacted the Herald after reading its Sunday report on Rainey’s death. That article was based largely on the account of inmate Harold Hempstead, bolstered by heavily censored documents from the state’s investigation of the incident. A burglar serving a decades-long sentence, Hempstead repeatedly wrote to the inspector general about Rainey’s death, but said he was never interviewed by the department.

Hoping to elicit a fuller investigation, Hempstead shared his letters with the Herald in April.

Thus far, Mallinckrodt is the only former employee to publicly support Rainey’s claims of systemic abuse, though two others — and a guard currently still working at DCI — told the Herald similar stories. They did not want to be identified by name for fear of retaliation.

Mallinckrodt said he wrote to the Justice Department in April after becoming dismayed with the lack of progress in the still-open criminal investigation into Rainey’s death. Two years later, no one has been charged and the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to complete an autopsy.

Cummings and a handful of his top aides were suspended last week, although it had nothing to do with Raineys’s death. Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary said an audit found “deficiencies” in the kitchen, which have since been corrected.

Sources at the prison who spoke to the Herald said the dining facility was overrun with rats.

On Monday, the Herald asked the state for a copy of the audit by the American Correctional Association, but it was not provided.

The past and present employees described a litany of issues in the mental health unit at the prison, located south of Homestead at 19000 SW 377th St. They said prisoners were beaten or deprived of food at the whim of guards and that inmates would defecate in their cells in protest or break sprinklers in hopes of being charged and sent to the county jail.

Mallinckrodt, who now works in private practice, said in an interview Monday that prison guards made “sport’’ of agitating the mentally ill inmates, hoping for an excuse to beat or otherwise punish them.

If the inmates threatened to file a complaint, the guards would tell them they could be written up for something they didn’t do, or confined to their cell 24 hours a day.

One corrections officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said guards would threaten to subject the mentally-ill prisoners to “the shower.’’

That would be a reference to a narrow, locked, second-floor chamber where, Hempstead said, Rainey was shoved after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up.

Mallinckrodt said the handles in that shower were broken in the “on” position and guards controlled the flow from the central shut-off valve, where they were able to turn up the water temperature to excruciating levels.

In his letter to the Department of Justice, Mallinckrodt said that after Rainey’s death, a nurse called him saying she had overheard a corrections officer remark: “I don't think we can get away with this one.”

Two years later, however, there is no record of the Department of Corrections punishing anyone, and neither Miami-Dade police nor the medical examiner has said how he died.

The mental health unit is monitored by security cameras, and the Herald filed a request for footage from the cameras as well as various other public records. However, in his report, the inspector general cited a “malfunction” making it impossible to view what happened after corrections officer Roland Clarke placed Rainey in the shower.

The three past employees said they were continually warned to keep quiet about the abuse in the unit or they would be deprived of the protection of guards when dealing either one on one or in a group setting with inmates. They said they were also told they would be fired.

That’s what happened to Mallinckrodt, who was employed by Corizon Health Inc., the outside company contracted to provide mental health services at the prison.

Two months after reporting the beating incident, he was discharged. He said the company told him he was being let go because he took long lunches and too many breaks.

Corizon declined to comment.

Hempstead, an inmate who also served as an orderly in the mental health unit, filed various complaints about Rainey’s death in early 2013. He listed the names of witnesses and prison guards who saw what happened or participated. The complaints were returned by the inspector general’s office with short, typewritten notes saying the matter was being reviewed.

Hempstead was interviewed by a Herald journalist on April 14. Since then, he told his family, he has been threatened by officers at Dade Correctional. On Monday, a day after the Herald published its initial story, one of the corrections officers involved in the original incident threatened him with physical harm if he continued to communicate with the news media, according to Hempstead’s family. He also was told he will be put on lockdown status, the family said.

Last week, the family sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking for Hempstead to be relocated to another prison away from the guards he is accusing of a crime. A week later, he remains at Dade Correctional.

Cummings, the warden briefly suspended last week, is a career corrections official who once worked in the department’s inspector general’s office. He was also formerly a shift lieutenant and sergeant at DCI and served as warden and assistant warden at several other state prisons.

Despite requests from the Herald, the DOC has not released personnel files for Cummings, Clarke and others.

The newspaper also requested Cummings’ and Clarke’s emails from the two weeks following Rainey’s death. Cary, the department spokeswoman, said fulfilling that request might take six months.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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