Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Step in, DOJ


OUR OPINION: An inmate’s death and a possible coverup demand a federal investigation

Darren Rainey, 50, died while incarcerated a the Dade Correctional Institution. He was serving a 2-year sentence for possession of cocaine. Prison guards allegedly forced him to stand in a shower stall while being blasted by scalding hot water.
Darren Rainey, 50, died while incarcerated a the Dade Correctional Institution. He was serving a 2-year sentence for possession of cocaine. Prison guards allegedly forced him to stand in a shower stall while being blasted by scalding hot water.
Florida Department of Corrections

If the unsolved case of Darren Rainey’s harrowing death were a movie, it would be solved by now, brutal prison guards convicted, inhumane corrections culture reformed. But the reality is that very few people seem to want to find out who left this mentally ill inmate in a scalding shower until the skin slipped off his body and he died.

It’s imperative that the U.S. Department of Justice swoop in and conduct an investigation with no other goal than determining who should be charged. It’s egregious that at almost every step of the way, the authorities upon whom Floridians rely to get to the bottom of such outrages have delayed, fumbled and slow-walked any investigation into Rainey’s death — murder, some would say — likely at the hands of corrections officers who, according to a former inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution, made sport of harassing, bullying and beating inmates.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Amnesty International, the Florida Council of Churches and other human-rights organizations implored U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to step in. Mr. Holder should do so immediately.

The details of Rainey’s death are harrowing, the follow-up by law-enforcement agencies, suspect: According to witnesses, including inmate Mark Joiner, prison guards at DCI strong-armed Rainey into a shower, turned on a blast of searingly hot water and left him there, where he died a most horrible death. He had defecated in his cell and refused to clean it up. He was mentally ill. The guards, according to Joiner, had a history of showing inmates who was boss, brutally and against all human decency.

Joiner told Herald writer Julie Brown that he was awakened early one day and told to clean up what was in the shower — the horror that he says he saw included large chunks of human skin.

Miami-Dade police were called to the scene. Their investigation remains, incredibly, inconclusive. The 911 call wasn’t saved. Detectives just got around to interviewing Joiner last week. Joiner wrote letters, one in the Department of Corrections files, outlining the culture of torture and abuse that the DOC tolerated — and by doing so, encouraged.

Less incredibly, DOC’s Inspector General, Jeffrey Beasley opened and closed the case quickly in 2012, apparently finding little that was out of the ordinary about Rainey’s death. Last week, however, after Rainey’s death failed to stay buried despite DOC’s best efforts, Mr. Beasley announced that he has reopened the investigation.

Too little, too late, as is the sudden interest of the DOC Secretary Michael Crews. Last week, he announced changes he says will enhance the safety of inmates and the staff, which indeed has a dangerous job to do. But he hasn’t said a word about Rainey’s death, or those of other inmates, one of which is currently under investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department. When will he step up and be accountable for the actions of those who work for him — and all Floridians?

DCI Warden Jerry Cummings, too, has issued only a written statement declaring DOC “has a strong record of taking immediate, decisive action.”

If these three are not embarrassed, ashamed and outraged by what’s happening on their watch, then they are abusing their positions of authority every bit as much as the most inhumane of prison guards who abuse mentally ill inmates. Since state authorities seem loath to do it, the Justice Department should intervene and determine if any one of them should even be holding their jobs.

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