State Politics

Gov. Scott’s office defends not probing prison death

Gov. Rick Scott said in South Florida the right thing is happening in regard to investigating the prison deaths.
Gov. Rick Scott said in South Florida the right thing is happening in regard to investigating the prison deaths. El Nuevo Herald file photo

Gov. Rick Scott's office came to the defense of his chief inspector general Friday, claiming that the reason she couldn’t investigate claims of a suspicious inmate death brought to her by an anonymous letter nearly two years ago was because the case was under an open investigation.

But, according to a detailed timeline released by the media office in response to a Miami Herald report, there was no investigation pending in the gassing death of Randall Jordan-Aparo when Melinda Miguel received the letter.

The 27-year-old inmate died in September 2010 after being doused with chemical agents three times in 13 minutes while in a confinement cell. Florida prison officials and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had closed the case in July 2012, concluding there was no relationship between the gassing and the inmate’s death.

Three months later, the governor received a letter from someone who identified himself or herself as a “high-ranking official” at the Department of Corrections. It alleged a coverup had taken place over the deaths of Jordan-Aparo and Miami inmate Darren Rainey, and complained of “cronyism and corruption” in the agency.

Rather than open an investigation into the letter writer’s claims, the governor’s chief inspector general, Miguel, turned the letter over to the Department of Corrections, the very agency accused of hiding the deaths, according to documents obtained by the Herald.

Reached at a campaign event in Miami, Scott refused to tell reporters Friday when he was first informed of the incidents, and he would not say if he supported the decision of his inspector general.

“The inspector general doesn’t have the subpoena power and things like that when there’s an investigation,” he said.

He referred to a federal investigation into the case that began only after four DOC whistleblowers approached the FBI when the state refused to act. “So the right thing’s happening,’’ Scott said. “There’s an investigation going on.”

More than an hour after the governor fielded questions about the matter, Scott’s media office issued the “setting the record straight” release about the Miami Herald's report.

“Right now, there are still an active criminal investigations underway on both deaths,’’ said Frank Collins, the governor’s communications director, in a statement. “These cases are not closed. The Chief Inspector General does not interfere with investigations by the F.B.I., the U.S. Department of Justice, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the Miami-Dade Police Department.’’

The statement noted that the FDLE concluded its investigation into Jordan-Aparo’s death at Franklin Correctional Institution in July 2012, and implied that the inspector general could not look into the matter because of an open investigation. But there was no investigation when the letter was received.

The FBI began investigating the death in September 2013, at which point the FDLE reopened its case. Only then would Miguel or the DOC have been precluded from further investigation.

What’s more, only after the Miami Herald began questioning inmates about the suspicious death of Rainey at Dade Correctional Institution did state officials revive their probe into that case.

In March, Miguel was approached by four DOC inspectors seeking whistleblower protection for their claims of a coverup in the death of Jordan-Aparo. They alleged that information had been withheld from the FDLE and their jobs were being threatened by Department of Corrections Inspector General Jeffery Beasley. Miguel refused to give them protection. They have since filed a lawsuit against her and the DOC.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas

Staff writers Julie Brown and Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

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