The Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews, and Wexford Health Systems ignored the widespread torture and abuse that mentally ill inmates have suffered for years at Dade Correctional Institution, a civil lawsuit alleges.
Disability Rights Florida, a nonprofit mental health advocacy group, is seeking an injunction to force immediate reforms and investigations into some of the more egregious complaints that it says Crews and others have ignored for more than three years.
Crews, his department, and Wexford, which provides health services to prisoners, “have permitted people with mental illness who were and currently are housed in the in-patient mental health unit at Dade CI to be subjected to abuse and discrimination by correctional officers to such an extent that at least two persons with mental illness have died within the past two years,” the suit, being filed Tuesday, alleges.
One of those who died is Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old inmate who was given a “shower treatment,” by corrections officers on June 23, 2012, allegedly as punishment for acting out and defecating on the floor of his cell. Rainey’s mental state had deteriorated so badly from the abuse inflicted by corrections officers that he became agitated and delusional, according to the lawsuit, prepared by Peter P. Sleasman, lawyer for the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, along with prominent legal firm Holland and Knight.
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Rainey was made to enter a scalding shower and left there for at least an hour and a half, and when he was found he had burns on 90 percent of his body, the lawsuit claims. Two years later, the Miami-Dade medical examiner has not released Rainey’s cause of death.
The Herald was unsuccessful in getting a comment from the department of corrections.
The litigation is the latest cloud over the department, which is under investigation on several fronts, mostly the result of an array of suspicious prison deaths.
Sleasman said the lawsuit does not seek monetary damages for Rainey’s death. His client, he said, wants an injunction to force the state and Wexford to institute sweeping, immediate reforms benefiting all mentally ill inmates at Dade Correctional, just south of Homestead.
“What we found was this was not an isolated incident — far from it. It was a pattern and practice and routine that the treatment staff knew about, the warden knew about and the inspectors had information on,” he said.
Although several inmates filed complaints about Rainey’s death with the corrections department’s inspector general’s office, no one from the agency took any action after a cursory investigation was closed in October 2012.
The suit notes that the department reopened the case only after the Herald began writing about Rainey’s death — and only to review whether the showers in the unit were working properly.
Miami-Dade police homicide detectives also did not interview witnesses until news reports raised questions about the death. The criminal investigation remains open.
Sleasman said recent promises of reform by Crews do not address systemic failures inside the prison. The secretary did fire the warden and deputy warden, but only after a series of news articles.
“More substantial steps need to be taken to make sure these incidents don’t happen again,” Sleasman said.
The suit lists the initials of inmates who allegedly have been been subjected to abuse, including violent beatings, starvings or the “shower treatment.” It alleges that Wexford knew about the abuse but never reported it. Wexford took over for Corizon, the company that provided medical services at Dade Correctional at the time of Rainey’s death.
George Mallinckrodt, a former psychotherapist at the prison, told the Herald in June that he and other mental professionals who worked in the facility were aware that mentally ill inmates were being mistreated, and that he reported the problem to Jerry Cummings, then the warden. He said Corizon employees were told by their bosses to keep quiet, and that other prison workers were afraid they would be fired if they spoke out. Mallinckrodt was fired by Corizon just prior to Rainey’s death.
Crews, at a news conference last month, announced that the newly appointed administration at Dade Correctional had identified a number of problems at the prison that were being resolved. Among them was the repair of the broken air condition system in the Transitional Care Unit, which houses the mentally ill.
Disability Rights of Florida also alleges that Crews failed to investigate the suicide of Richard Mair, a mentally ill inmate at DCI who filed a number of complaints alleging he had been abused — and that other inmates in the mental health unit were tormented by staff as a matter of routine.
Mair hanged himself in his cell in September 2013. He sewed a suicide note into his boxer shorts that reiterated the abuse allegations. They were never investigated by Crews’ inspector general, Jeffery Beasley.
James McDonough, a former secretary of the Department of Corrections, said it is significant when there are a lot of complaints coming from the same prison, and that the prison system administration needs to take such matters seriously.
“The duty of the leadership at every level is to be vigilant in reacting to signals that there could be a problem,’’ McDonough said.