Florida prison boss fires 32 over inmate deaths

FILE--Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews, shown in this July 10, 2014, file photo, fired more than 30 guards Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in connection with inmate deaths.
FILE--Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews, shown in this July 10, 2014, file photo, fired more than 30 guards Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in connection with inmate deaths. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Thirty-two guards with the Florida Department of Corrections were fired Friday afternoon in what union officials were calling a “Friday night massacre.” All were accused of criminal wrongdoing or misconduct in connection with the deaths of inmates at four state prisons.

One of them is Rollin Suttle Austin, the subject of a Miami Herald investigative report coming Sunday. The Herald has published a string of articles alleging brutality and corruption in the prison system.

Eighteen of those fired by Secretary Michael Crews were involved in the death of Matthew Walker at Charlotte Correctional Institution on April 11. Walker, 55, was killed in what the DOC is calling an “inappropriate use of force.”

Five other fired corrections officers from Union Correctional had been accused of using excessive force in the death of inmate Rudolf Rowe on Aug. 16, 2012.

Over the past several months, the Herald has dug through records involving the suspicious deaths of a variety of state inmates, including Randall Jordan-Aparo, a 27-year-old check forger who died at Franklin Correctional in September 2010.

Records show Austin ordered the gassing of Jordan-Aparo as the inmate pleaded to be taken to the hospital for a blood disorder that had flared up.

He died that night. The initial investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the gassing had nothing to do with Jordan-Aparo’s death. Austin remained on the job for three years, until a team of prison system inspectors visited Franklin to look into unrelated wrongdoing and stumbled onto the circumstances behind Jordan-Aparo’s death, calling it a case of “sadistic, retaliatory” behavior by guards.

When they reported their findings to their boss, Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, he allegedly told them he would “have their asses” if they didn’t back off.

The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating Jordan-Aparo’s death, and FDLE is taking a second look.

In recent weeks, Crews has acknowledged that the department has failed to take action against corrections officers involved in inmate abuse. He directed his staff to review all cases in which corrections officers had been placed on paid leave following possible criminal wrongdoing.

All of those who were dismissed had been on paid leave.

“I’ve made it clear that there is zero tolerance for corruption or abuse,” Crews said in a statement Friday. “We continue to root out any and all bad actors who do not live up to our expectations.”

However, the Teamsters Union that represents the officers said Friday’s “massacre” was conducted without due process. Many of the officers, the union official said, were following protocols set forth by their bosses, who have not been held accountable.

“The procedure they were following in Charlotte was well known and condoned by the warden,” Teamsters spokesman Bill Curtis said. “Essentially they promoted the people most responsible and liable for the incident and fired everybody else down the chain.”

The Department of Corrections has been in the spotlight since May, when the Herald first reported the June 2012 death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional.

After defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, Rainey was locked in a closet-like shower by guards. After turning on a stream of hot water that Rainey could not control, corrections officers allegedly taunted the inmate as he begged to be let out. Then they walked away, leaving him in the unbearably hot chamber for nearly two hours.

He collapsed and died, falling face-up on the shower drain. When guards found him, chunks of skin were slipping off his body, witnesses told the inspector general’s office. No one was held accountable.

Since the Herald published its initial reports, the Miami-Dade Police Department has for the first time interviewed witnesses, and Dade Correctional’s warden and his top deputy have been ousted.

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