New investigations are underway by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the deaths of three inmates whose bodies were found in state prisons over the Fourth of July weekend, authorities confirmed Wednesday.
The deaths bring the total open, in-custody state prison death cases under scrutiny to 10 — nine of them being handled by the FDLE.
The Miami Herald also confirmed Wednesday that an FBI investigation is ongoing at Suwannee Correctional facility, the site of an October prison riot by inmates who attacked five prison guards. In April, Shawn Gooden, 33, died under mysterious circumstances at Suwannee, and his death is also under investigation by the FDLE. Inmates there have long complained of violence, abuse and corruption at the prison, located in Live Oak, just west of Lake City.
The FDLE would not release any information about the new deaths, except to say that two of them happened at Hamilton Correctional Institution and the third at Columbia Correctional.
The Hamilton inmates were identified by the Department of Corrections as Dan Myers, 42; and Craig Coburn, 35. DOC spokeswoman Jessica Cary said Coburn died of natural causes.
Dennis Alvarado, 32, died July 4, after being involved in a clash with another inmate, Cary said. No other information was available.
The new cases come just days after four veteran state DOC investigators filed a federal whistle-blower suit in connection with the 2010 death of a 27-year-old inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, at Franklin Correctional Institution.
The original death was originally ruled the result of complications from a rare blood disorder. But DOC investigators revisited the case in 2013 after discovering that corrections officers and supervisors at the prison covered-up evidence and fabricated reports to make it appear that he had died from his disease.
In fact, Jordan-Aparo, who was serving 18 months at Franklin for check fraud, had been placed in solitary confinement and repeatedly gassed by guards until he died.
In the hours before his death, he pleaded with the guards and the prison’s nurses to take him to the hospital because he couldn’t breathe. When his body was found, he was coated in yellow residue, his face was pressed up against the bottom of the steel door and a Bible was next to his head.
After three of the investigators were thwarted in their efforts to bring charges in his death, they contacted Florida’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, asking for whistle-blower protection, a status that would enable them to challenge the chain of command without facing reprisals. Miguel declined, instead referring them to the state Commission on Human Relations to file a complaint against their boss, DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley.
In the lawsuit, the investigators allege that Beasley and deputy DOC Inspector General Kenneth Sumpter filed false internal affairs complaints against them in retaliation for uncovering violations of state and federal laws in connection with the Jordan-Aparo case.
The four investigators involved in the lawsuit, Aubrey Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson and John Ulm, allege that state prisoners have been beaten and tortured, that guards smuggle in drugs and other contraband in exchange for money and sexual favors, and that prison staff use gang enforcers to control and punish the prison population. They claim those actions were either tacitly approved or covered up.
They also allege that Miguel and her deputy, Dawn Case, ignored their evidence of retaliation — as well as other allegations of widespread inmate abuse, neglect and corruption within the agency.
Miguel on Monday issued a statement saying that their allegations are under investigation.
In addition to the nine FDLE death investigations, Miami-Dade homicide detectives are investigating the death of Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate who was found dead in a shower at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012.
Rainey was forced into the small shower by guards, who left him there, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell. For almost two hours, he screamed as he was drenched in scalding hot water until he collapsed, with his skin peeling from his body, witnesses said.
Police did not interview witnesses until May of this year, as the Herald was preparing to publish a story about his death. The case remains open and neither the police report nor the autopsy has been released. His family still has not been told how he died.
Former Department of Corrections Chief James McDonough said Tuesday that events at his former agency “smacks of torture, sadism, murder, cover-up, and ignoring of the facts.”
McDonough, the former drug czar and DOC secretary under Gov. Jeb Bush, was responding to a series of reports by the Herald detailing inmate deaths and cover-ups at the agency. McDonough was tapped to head the prison department by Bush from 2006-2008 after Bush fired then-secretary James Crosby, who was convicted of taking kickbacks.
“I am revolted by what I am hearing, just as I am by what I am not hearing,” said McDonough, a retired army colonel and Purple Heart recipient, in an email Tuesday. “The latter refers to the silence and lack of sense of outrage by Department officials, or for that matter, other officials.
“There is only so much that can be feigned as we ‘wait for the conclusion of an official investigation’,” he wrote.
“These cases did not end tragically last week; they ended in horrific and suspicious deaths some years ago. Where has the leadership been?”