Florida Prisons

As Florida inmate begged for help, guards gassed him to death, suit says

This is the isolation cell where Randall Jordan-Aparo was doused with chemicals. The lawsuit says corrections officers covered the windows before administering the gas.
This is the isolation cell where Randall Jordan-Aparo was doused with chemicals. The lawsuit says corrections officers covered the windows before administering the gas.

A 27-year-old prisoner who died at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 was killed by corrections officers who tortured, gassed and beat him, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

The inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, suffered from a genetic blood disorder that had flared up in the months before his death. As his condition worsened, the lawsuit alleges, corrections officers, doctors and nurses at the prison denied him medical attention, and when he complained, they forced him into an isolation cell and gassed him until he could no longer breathe.'

READ MORE: After Florida inmate’s lethal gassing, claims of cover-up

The inmate, who was serving time for credit card fraud, was found dead in his cell, naked except for his boxer shorts, in March 2010. Photographs of his body show him face-up next to his Bible. His hair, legs, toes and mouth — as well as the walls of the cell — were coated with orange residue, a byproduct of the chemical spray.

In all, he was subjected to 600 grams of chemical agents in a confined space, well over lethal levels, according to an investigation by the Miami Herald in 2014.

The suit, brought on behalf of Jordan-Aparo’s 12-year-old daughter, alleges that the corrections officers murdered Jordan-Aparo and that the nurses, doctors and warden — all named in the suit — conspired to cover up his death by removing evidence, doctoring reports and threatening witnesses.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal actions filed against the Florida Department of Corrections involving inmates who died, allegedly as a result of mistreatment by corrections officers or medical staff or both. The lawsuits claim that the agency has a history of corruption that involves destroying and concocting evidence to hide the suspicious deaths of Florida prisoners.

The circumstances of Jordan-Aparo’s death are similar to the deaths of several other inmates who were the focus of investigations by the Miami Herald over the past three years. Among them:

▪  Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old inmate suffering from mental illness who was placed in a scalding shower at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012;

▪ Rommell Johnson, 44, an asthmatic inmate with severe breathing problems, gassed in confinement in 2010;

▪ Ricky Martin, 24, who was beaten by a fellow inmate as officers passed by his cell in 2012;

▪ Matthew Walker, 47, beaten to death by corrections officers at Charlotte Correctional Institution in 2014.

Most recently, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in the death of Frank Smith, 44, who was badly injured in 2012 during a transport from Shands Hospital in Gainesville to Union Correctional Institution. The suit contends that Smith was beaten so severely by corrections officers that he was left paralyzed and died several months later from massive head trauma.

In all cases, the prisons’ inspector general’s office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. No one has ever been charged in any of the cases.

Jordan-Aparo’s death, which is still under investigation by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is also the subject of additional lawsuits filed by FDC’s own investigators, who claim that the agency conspired to cover up his death and then retaliated against them when they tried to re-investigate what happened.

In June, a state panel ruled that the prison agency violated its own policies by stacking up allegations against one of the investigators, Doug Glisson, and spending more time investigating him on trumped-up charges than they did investigating claims of abuse on inmates by staff, as in the case of Jordan-Aparo.

Glisson and three other prison inspectors, Aubrey Land, David Clark and John Ulm, are suing the agency, accusing it of cover-ups, inmate abuse and political interference. As part of one lawsuit, filed in June, Ulm and Glisson claim that the office of Gov. Rick Scott has wielded influence over the agency’s investigations, accusing both the governor’s former top lawyer, Pete Antonacci, and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, of involvement.

Land detailed evidence of a cover-up in the Jordan-Aparo case to Miguel in a tape-recorded interview in 2013. To date, no one from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the FBI has interviewed Land or other witnesses in connection with Jordan-Aparo’s death.

The Jordan-Aparo lawsuit was brought by Amanda Cimillo, the mother of his 12-year-old daughter.

“It shouldn’t take six years to bring charges in this case. This is not a whodunit,’’ said Steven R. Andrews, the Tallahassee attorney representing Jordan-Aparo’s daughter, who is not identified in the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the officers who gassed Jordan-Aparo, as well as the doctors and nurses at the prison, lied on their reports, and that the warden, Diane Andrews, prevented investigators from interviewing witnesses. She also gave the go-ahead to gassing Jordan-Aparo, even though his medical records stated that he suffered from a disability that made it difficult for him to breathe, the lawsuit said.

An FDC spokeswoman, Michelle Glady, said the agency would not comment on pending litigation. She said that it was “assisting’’ in the joint FDLE/FBI probe into Jordan-Aparo’s death.

Amy Alexander, a spokeswoman for Christopher P. Canova, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, responded with this statement on the Jordan-Aparo case: “We have no public information regarding this inquiry.”'

“What is the FBI supposedly doing here?’’ Andrews asked. “These people committed murder and it should be embarrassing to the FBI that they haven’t done anything.’’

Jordan-Aparo told prison officials that both his parents committed suicide when he was young. At the age of 5 and 7, he and his brother began a nomadic life that took them to 28 different foster homes, Jordan-Aparo’s brother, Shawn, told the Miami Herald in 2014.

They ended up in an orphanage in Tampa, where the recreation director, Thomas Aparo, took them under his wing and eventually adopted them. By then, they were teenagers and were getting into trouble. Randall had a long history of theft and fraud charges but no violent criminal history. He was serving a 19-month sentence at the time of his death.

Shawn and Thomas Aparo said the prison agency gave them conflicting stories about how Randall died. Afterward, they heard from an inmate’s mother, who said her son had written her from Franklin, telling her to get in touch with his family because Randall had been murdered by corrections officers.

The lawsuit includes statements from several inmates in the Franklin confinement unit — which houses inmates confined to cells as opposed to open dorms — who allege that Randall had been begging and crying for medical treatment the day he died, and that officers began retaliating against him for complaining by spraying him with chemicals.

The autopsy, conducted by Dr. Lisa Flanagan, did not attribute his death to the application of gas. She ruled that the cause was complications from “multiple cardiac and pulmonary abscesses.’’ However, she did note that he may not have died had the officers, doctors and nurses ensured he received proper medical attention.

Andrews noted that Flanagan failed to review any evidence from the cell, including photographs of how Jordan-Aparo was found.

Medical records obtained by the Herald two years ago show that in the days before his death, Jordan-Aparo began experiencing bleeding problems, complained of severe back pain and had a fever of 102. His lungs and heart were hurting and he was having difficulty breathing, his records indicate.

Jordan-Aparo and his brother both suffered from Osler-Weber-Rendu (HHT) syndrome, a treatable but rare disease that causes abnormal blood vessel formation in the lungs, liver, skin and brain. It often leads to chronic nosebleeds and lesions on the skin and around the mouth. His FDC records repeatedly reference his disability, yet the nurses indicated that they believed Jordan-Aparo was faking his illness and sent him back to his dorm.

Becoming agitated, Jordan-Aparo finally threatened to sue the nurses, demanding that they take him to the hospital. He was immediately placed in an isolation cell for causing “a disturbance,’’ prison records said.

The more Jordan-Aparo complained, the more he was gassed, records show. In all, he was subjected to 600 grams of chemical agents in a confined space, the Miami Herald investigation showed.

Experts interviewed by the Herald said that the effects of pepper spray and tear gas — after just 10 minutes of exposure in a confined space — would have been lethal.

The Herald reviewed of hundreds of documents in the case, including emails and letters, that show that the prison’s then-warden — Andrews — and Miguel, had been told from at least 2011 that there were lingering questions about the way Jordan-Aparo died.

Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story.