2 years later, Florida keeps lid on prison death details

 

Three inmates claim that a Dade Correctional prisoner was killed by guards in what has been described as a hot-shower punishment ritual. Their efforts to get something done about it have gone nowhere.

 
Darren Rainey
Darren Rainey
Florida Department of Corrections

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For more than a month, the Miami Herald has sought to interview Mark Joiner and about a dozen other inmates who were allegedly privy to the events surrounding Darren Rainey’s death. The herald sent at least five letters to Joiner, who is now housed at Columbia Correctional Institution.

One of them, intercepted by the prison, was returned to the Herald on May 14 with an “unauthorized mail return receipt” notice. On the form, DOC officials said the letter was not delivered to Joiner because it contained personal information about another inmate that may pose “a threat to the security, order or rehabilitative objectives” of the prison system.

In all, the newspaper wrote to roughly a dozen inmates who reportedly were at the prison, and either may have witnessed what happened to Rainey or, according to inmate Harold Hempstead, were similarly locked in the closet-like shower as punishment.

The first set of letters were sent in early May, using Miami Herald stationery and envelopes, asking the inmates to allow a reporter to visit them by placing the reporter’s name on a visitation list. The newspaper received no response.

A second set of letters went out in mid-May — and this time, the newspaper used plain white envelopes and Herald stationery. The newspaper received no responses.

Then, the first week in June, the newspaper sent out another set of 12 letters, this time in plain white envelopes. The enclosed letters, on plain paper, didn’t mention the Herald and merely stated a desire to talk to the inmates about an “important matter.”

In the past week, two inmates contacted the Herald through intermediaries inquiring about the “important matter.”

One of the intermediaries, a chaplain at Martin Correctional Institution, called a reporter on behalf of Daniel Medberry, who is now housed at Martin.

When the reporter told the chaplain why the newspaper wanted to speak with Martin, the chaplain replied, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that.”


jbrown@MiamiHerald.com

A killing, then threats and a coverup.

That’s what three former inmates at Dade Correctional Institution independently claim happened on and after June 23, 2012, when Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old, mentally-ill prisoner, was allegedly locked in a shower by corrections officers as punishment. He was left there for as long as two hours, purportedly howling for mercy as scalding water blasted his body.

When he was found by guards, face-up, in the closet-size shower chamber, Rainey’s skin had separated from his body and he was dead.

A written record of the 911 call that night, released by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue on Tuesday, shows there was a 22-minute gap between the time corrections officers said they found Rainey’s body and the time fire rescue was summoned.

One inmate, who wrote the Department of Corrections a letter after his transfer from DCI, said he was ordered to clean up the “crime scene” during that time interval.

The inmate, a convicted murderer named Mark Joiner, asked to be interviewed by the department as part of any investigation.

“Upon interview, I will explain why his death was murder and how it can be proven beyond a doubt,” Joiner wrote.

Whatever else the 46-year-old Joiner had to say remains unknown. Eighteen months later, he has still not been questioned by the prison system, a spokesperson acknowledged.

Neither the corrections department nor Miami-Dade police will say whether they plan to interview Joiner in the future.

Another witness who has apparently not been questioned is the nurse who was on duty that night and examined Rainey’s body post-mortem. She told the Miami Herald that the corpse was so hot that it exceeded the range on her thermometer.

The nurse, who declined to be identified because she fears retaliation, said it was clear from the condition of Rainey’s body that he had been left unattended in the shower for a long time.

A second inmate, a burglar named Harold Hempstead, filed several greivances with the department in early 2013, asserting that Rainey was deliberately tortured for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up. Hempstead, 38, said Rainey pleaded to be let out of the shower — whose temperature controls were located on the outside of the unit — as he was scalded.

Hempstead contacted the Herald through an intermediary after his multiple grievances were returned by the department with no action taken.

After he discussed Rainey’s death in a prison interview with a Herald journalist, Hempstead said the same corrections officers involved in the shower incident threatened him if he continued stirring up trouble. Hempstead has since been transferred to another prison, Suwanee Correctional, away from the Dade Correctional guards, who remain on duty.

In addition to the witnesses who were not interviewed, key evidence, such as audio of the 911 call from the prison that night, was not preserved, indicating that the death was never treated as a homicide.

Bruce Hyma, Miami-Dade’s medical examiner, has not released an autopsy detailing Rainey’s cause of death. Rainey’s brother said no one from the medical examiner’s office has ever contacted him about the death or medical history of his brother, who was serving two years for cocaine possession.

“I remember it was Father’s Day weekend, two years ago,” Andre Chapman, who lives in Tampa, said in an interview. “All they said is they found him collapsed in the shower. They said they had to do an autopsy, but nobody got back to me about it. It’s like that’s how they were going to leave it.”

Despite repeated attempts by the Herald to reach Joiner, he has not responded to written requests for interviews. One letter sent by the newspaper was intercepted by prison officials and returned because, the prison’s return form said, the letter named another inmate (Rainey) and that naming another inmate posed a threat to the prison’s and the inmate’s security.

The Herald has written several other inmates, identified by Hempstead either as witnesses to Rainey’s torment or as prisoners who were previously locked in the shower as punishment.

At least one other inmate complained to the Department of Corrections about Rainey’s treatment. The Department of Corrections won’t reveal his name, but he filed a grievance a day after the death, claiming that guards slapped and punched Rainey as they escorted him to the shower. A month later, that inmate was interviewed by the department.

The Miami Herald requested a transcript of the interview. Indicating that it had not been done previously, the department charged the Herald to have a company produce a 23-page transcription. In it, virtually every answer is redacted — blotted out with a marker.

In one of the few unredacted passages, the inmate says he had been threatened with the same treatment Rainey got if he persisted in making waves.

At the end of the interview, the inmate is warned by the questioner, also unidentified, against repeating anything he had said “because it is a violation for you to do so.”

The Herald submitted a public records request in May for all “correspondences” received from Hempstead about Rainey’s death. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary responded that DOC had nothing fitting that description.

A Herald journalist then told Cary that there were several documents from the inmate detailing Rainey’s death. Hempstead provided them — as well as the department’s responses — when the journalist paid a visit to the prison.

Cary then explained that the documents could not be produced because the Herald asked for “correspondences” and Hempstead’s documents were “grievances.”

To date, the Herald has submitted public records requests for information about Rainey’s death to more than a half-dozen government agencies, including Miami-Dade police, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the Miami-Dade medical examiner and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Last month — after the Herald interviewed Hempstead and made numerous phone inquiries — Miami-Dade police detectives visited him in prison, according to the inmate’s family, which has had limited communication with him since his transfer.

The Department of Corrections said that it long ago suspended its administrative review until the police investigation into the matter was concluded. Hyma, the medical examiner, said he was waiting for police to complete their probe so he could “interpret” his findings.

To date, no one in the Department of Corrections has been held accountable for what occurred that night.

To some experts, the slow pace of the investigation and the failure to preserve evidence is troubling.

“There is no reason not to save that 911 call — period. End of story,” said John Marraccini, former chief medical examiner in Palm Beach County and an independent forensic pathologist.

Marraccini said it’s inexplicable why it has taken so long for the medical examiner to tell Rainey’s family how he died.

“There’s no law that says the medical examiner can’t release the autopsy. It’s just a question of whether the medical examiner wants to have an image of transparency or not,” he said.

Howard Finkelstein, Broward County’s elected public defender, called Rainey’s treatment “sadistic torture.”

“What it shows is just how sick some guards are and how often they can get away with it as long as the people they torture are poor, homeless or minorities,” he said.

David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, said prisons have long been closed institutions that have been hidden from public scrutiny.

“This case shows in stark terms why we need independent, outside oversight of prisons,” Fathi said.

“It is certainly shocking that two years after a mysterious and troubling death, no one has done an investigation.”

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