Broward County

Lawyers group honors Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown for prison investigations

Julie K. Brown
Julie K. Brown

A national lawyers group has announced it will honor Julie K. Brown, Miami Herald investigative reporter, for her stories exposing scandals in the Florida prison system.

The Leonard Weinglass in Defense of Civil Liberties Award is bestowed yearly by the American Association for Justice’s Civil Rights Section.

In announcing the honor, the organization cited Brown’s work focusing on “systemic abuse, neglect and violence in Florida prisons,” including the striking number of deaths at Dade Correctional Institution.

Brown has written extensively about the circumstances behind the death of Darren Rainey, a minor drug offender held in Dade Correctional’s mental health unit. In 2012, the 50-year-old was locked in a shower for nearly two hours until he collapsed and died. The incident was treated as an accident despite what the AAJ called “extensive evidence to the contrary.”

Prisoners told the Miami Herald that the shower — rigged so that the temperature controls were in an adjacent room — was used to torment inmates with unbearably hot water temperatures. The investigation into the case was dormant until Brown exposed the death and other abuses two years later.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle recently announced that no law was broken. A Herald story on Sunday showed how the shower stripped Rainey’s skin from his body.

Brown’s articles “have exposed corruption and lack of accountability in the Florida prison system and have forced numerous reforms, including leadership and staffing changes, as well as calls for federal investigations into the Florida Department of Corrections,” the organization said.

Leonard Weinglass was co-counsel for defendants in the Chicago 7 Trial, which followed the street demonstrations that disrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention during the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Most of the defendants were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot and sentenced to prison. Also sentenced to prison were Weinglass and co-counsel William Kunstler, for contempt of court.

An appeal court reversed the convictions and sharply rebuked the prosecution and the judge.

Founded in 1946, the American Association for Justice is devoted to promoting “a fair and effective justice system — and to support the work of attorneys ... even when taking on the most powerful interests.”

The award will be presented in July during the group’s annual convention in Boston.