The heartbroken families of relatives who died under suspicious circumstances behind bars in Florida’s prisons have every reason to ask, Will the stonewalling ever end?
One more family, one of too many, has been pushed down the rabbit hole, searching for answers about their loved one’s death, possibly the result of official neglect, indifference or violence.
It’s yet another account of governmental entities doing more to obscure than shed light on what’s still amiss in Florida prisons, in spite of some improvements since Corrections Secretary Julie Jones has come on board. But what look like coverups continue, and if elected officials and state bureaucrats allow them to go unaddressed, then they, too, are culpable.
As reported by Herald writer Julie K. Brown, in several letters, Michael Baker — now the late Michael Baker — begged for relatives’ help. An inmate at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in the Panhandle, Baker said he had been beaten and had his teeth kicked out, and that corrections officers doused him in chemicals because, he alleged, he filed complaints against them.
In addition, Baker had sickle cell disease. According to his sister, he told her in several tearful phone conversations that nurses were withholding his medication.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Baker’s attorney, James V. Cook. “I have a series of five or six letters in which, in letter after letter, he tells me the nurses are making fun of him, they are telling him to go ahead and just die.”
And that’s what Baker did on March 10, in a private hospital after his excruciating pain allegedly had been ignored too long.
Such stories of cold-hearted and deliberate negligence have become a chillingly familiar story throughout Florida’s corrections system. As a result, Corizon, the private company that provides medical care in prisons is on the way out, and not a moment too soon. Florida taxpayers were funding the $1.1 billion contract and buying, along with healthcare, suspicious inmate deaths that were covered up or never reviewed, inadequate staffing and, as in Michael Baker’s case, complaints of neglectful care that were ignored. Bad deal.
Corizon terminated its contract with the state in the fall. It will be replaced by Centurion of Florida, a well-connected firm that lawmakers and Ms. Jones must ensure provides the total opposite of Corizon’s substandard performance.
However, the nightmare for many families hasn’t ended. In the case of Baker’s family, they have requested an autopsy report. But Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard won’t do it, and does not have to — it’s up to her discretion. Why doesn’t she want answers, too?
In Ocala, a contoversial autopsy found the death of Latandra Ellington — an inmate who predicted her own death, likely at the hands of an abusive prison guard who threatened to kill her — to be from natural causes, despite a finding of near-toxic levels of a blood pressure medication in her system.
And in Miami-Dade County, a preliminary autopsy in the most notorious recent prison death, that of Darren Rainey, declared his demise — in a scalding-hot shower in a locked stall — accidental.
This questionable pattern around the state continues to let some state employees, possibly, get away with murder. And that lack of accountability means Floridians still aren’t getting their money’s worth.