Gov. Rick Scott’s chief troubleshooter was warned by letter nearly two years ago about the possible cover-up of two suspicious prison deaths, but did nothing other than forward the letter to the very people accused of hiding the deaths, documents obtained by the Miami Herald show.
An anonymous letter addressed to “Gov. Scott” and stamped as received by the governor’s chief inspector general on Oct. 25, 2012, included strikingly accurate details about the gruesome deaths of Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 and Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional in 2012.
At the time the governor’s office received the letter, the investigations of both deaths had been closed by the Department of Corrections — Jordan-Aparo’s as a natural death and Rainey’s pending a finding by the Miami-Dade medical examiner.
Rather than open an inquiry into the letter-writer’s claims, Melinda Miguel, the governor’s chief inspector general, turned the letter over to the DOC’s inspector general’s office, which conducted a cursory review. A summary of the DOC report notes some “staff violations’’ in connection with Jordan-Aparo’s death, and states that Miami-Dade police were handling Rainey’s case.
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The report concluded that “this inquiry [will] be closed with no further action taken.”
The letter is another sign that the governor’s chief investigator, her assistant, Dawn Case, and DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley knew there was possible wrongdoing in connection with the deaths, yet did nothing.
In March of this year, Miguel refused to give DOC investigators whistle-blower protection after they told her that Beasley was pressuring them not to charge anyone in the Jordan-Aparo case. She also refused to give whistle-blower protection to a DOC probation officer who, in 2011, told her about suspicious aspects of Jordan-Aparo’s death. That officer, Cristina Bullins, was subsequently fired, though the department said that was over taking unapproved leave time.
“Probation Officer Bullins was an exemplary DOC employee who was treated rudely and not shown the same consideration as other employees with serious medical issues,” said Bill Curtis, business agent with the Teamsters Union local that represents corrections officers. “It was convenient to dismiss her and try to keep her quiet.”
Scott could not be reached for comment, but Miguel issued a statement saying she could not identify the writer to ask further questions so she relied on state and local police to investigate.
“When OIG [office of inspector general] staff looked into both matters, there was already an ongoing investigation on both incidents by state and local authorities, which takes precedence over an administrative review,’’ she said. “Moreover, as the complaint was filed anonymously, and no specific evidence was provided, we could not interview the complainant to obtain further information or specific details.”
The Department of Corrections would not respond to questions about why its investigators dismissed the letter. Instead, it issued a statement repeating Secretary Michael Crews’ promise that he has “zero tolerance for corruption and abuse,” and his vow to “root out any and all bad actors who do not live up to our expectations.”
The letter, postmarked from Orlando, came from an anonymous writer who identified himself as a “high-ranking’’ DOC employee. It included details about the case of Jordan-Aparo, who died after being repeatedly gassed by corrections officers while in solitary confinement at Franklin in September 2010.
The warden at the time was Diane Andrews. The letter writer said she “breaks down under pressure,’’ asserting that it was a mistake to reassign her in 2012 to oversee Union Correctional Institution, which had had multiple inmate beatings that year.
The writer suggested she was placed at Union by Tim Cannon. According to the writer, he was “the Man running the agency’’ even though he was not the secretary.
The letter writer directed most of the blame for the department’s culture of “cronyism’’ on Cannon, not Crews or his predecessor, Ken Tucker.
Cannon was subsequently promoted, and is now DOC’s second in command under Crews.
The letter, portions of which were redacted, also warned of another “ugly’’ case at Dade Correctional involving an inmate who had been killed in a shower. In May, the Herald began a series of stories about inmate deaths, beginning with Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at Dade who died in 2012 after guards allegedly forced him to shower in scalding hot water as punishment for defecating on the floor of his cell.
“You had better get ready for another case at Dade CI,’’ the writer warned the governor.
The letter was placed in Cannon’s personnel file, which was provided to the Herald as part of a public records request.
Miguel, Case and Beasley are now accused by the DOC investigators in a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed in June of retaliating against them for trying to expose the “sadistic and retaliatory’’ death of Jordan-Aparo.
Miguel has failed to release the results of an internal affairs investigation, completed on June 3, involving those DOC inspectors. The inspectors claim the probe was concocted by Beasley to punish them for their pursuit of the Jordan-Aparo investigation.
In their lawsuit, the inspectors claim that Beasley, at a DOC Christmas party last year, told them he would “have their asses’’ if they didn’t back off.
Miguel, as head of the agency in charge of ferreting out corruption in state government, has great latitude about how to approach anonymous letters. Her office frequently receives letters about alleged abuse in state prisons.
It would not be unusual for her to refer a letter about inmate abuse to DOC’s inspector general, said James McDonough, former corrections department secretary under Gov. Jeb Bush.
But what is troubling, McDonough said, is that the department appears to have dismissed the letter writer’s claims without taking aggressive steps to investigate them.
“There is nothing to keep you from reopening an investigation,’’ said McDonough, who during his short stint in charge of the agency was credited with instituting reforms.
Walt McNeil, DOC secretary under former Gov. Charlie Crist, said there’s no evidence that Miguel followed up.
“The governor’s inspector general has a responsibility to make sure the veracity of what’s been told her by an agency inspector general is in fact true,’’ said McNeil, who is backing Crist for governor this year.
She was also subsequently given details by other, more credible sources — the veteran DOC investigators — that supported what the anonymous writer had claimed years earlier.
On Friday, the agency fired more than 30 corrections officers in connection with inmate abuses dating back to 2010, including three guards who had been on paid leave in connection with Jordan-Aparo’s death.
The move came as the agency learned that the Herald was about to publish a story about Rollin Austin, a Franklin lieutenant who ordered that Jordan-Aparo be repeatedly sprayed by chemical agents.
The investigation into Rainey’s death also languished for almost two years until the Herald began asking questions about it in May. Prior to that time, neither Miami-Dade police nor DOC investigators had interviewed witnesses.
Crews, in recent months, has vowed to clean up the department. He fired Dade Correctional’s warden and deputy warden, set up an inmate mortality online database and has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to take over some 85 inmate death investigations.
Scott, however, has avoided getting involved, allowing Crews and others to shoulder the public backlash as reports have surfaced about problems and possible cover-ups.
The lack of response to the inmate deaths prompted McDonough to question state government accountability.
“These cases did not end tragically last week; they ended in horrific and suspicious deaths some years ago,’’ he wrote in an email to the Miami Herald in July. “Where has the leadership been?”
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas