Over the past four years, there is probably no one who fought harder for justice for Darren Rainey than Harold Hempstead.
Hempstead was shipped to a prison in Tennessee abruptly last Friday, guaranteeing that he would not be able to respond to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s decision — released later that same day — clearing corrections officers in Rainey’s June 23, 2012, death at Dade Correctional Institution.
The state attorney’s close-out memo took direct aim at Hempstead’s credibility, devoting eight pages to debunking his allegation that Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, had been forced into a specially rigged shower by corrections officers who had been using scalding showers to punish inmates for bad behavior.
Though Hempstead remained incommunicado — to family and to his lawyer — as of Thursday, he did talk about the police investigation during a wide-ranging interview with the Miami Herald in October 2015, while he was an inmate at Martin Correctional Institution.
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Video of the interview, never made public until now, was part of a series of interviews the Herald conducted with Hempstead during a three-year investigation — called “Cruel and Unusual’’ — about the abuse of inmates at Dade Correctional and other state prisons across Florida.
As an orderly in Dade’s Transitional Care Unit, or mental health ward, Hempstead had a wealth of information about its layout, its staff, the nurses, doctors and inmates. He kept a diary and meticulous notes about alleged inmate abuse, describing in detail how the shower torture began — with an inmate named Daniel Geiger — and continued for about six months until Rainey died.
Despite his detail, the state attorney deemed Hempstead’s accounts not credible, laying out a case in the investigative report (sometimes in sentences that were underlined and in bold) that Hempstead’s times were off and that certain events just didn’t add up. Investigators, in reviewing the surveillance video of the wing the night of Rainey’s death, said Hempstead could not have seen all the things he claimed because the window to his cell had been covered up for part of the evening.
But the report has some obvious omissions. It never mentions whether investigators interviewed the doctors in the unit, or whether detectives had spoken to all of the staffers who worked there on a regular basis — something Hempstead insisted would yield more information.
Hempstead, serving 160-plus years for a string of burglaries, predicted that Miami-Dade police detectives would conclude that the guards and other staffers at Dade Correctional Institution were more credible than inmates, who were described in the final report as either too mentally impaired or otherwise not sufficiently reliable to rest a criminal case on.
“The officers have a high level of secrecy, that basically, you don’t oppose the ‘good-ol’-boy clique, it’s ‘don’t oppose our activities or what we do,’” Hempstead explained. “So it’s real hard for them to come forward. They have to be willing to lose their jobs and possibly a lot more.”
Hempstead described detectives as reluctant investigators who took over a year to get around to interviewing him, even though, in 2013, he began an intensive letter-writing campaign to Miami-Dade police, the Miami-Dade medical examiner, the state attorney’s office and the inspector general for the Florida Department of Corrections.
After what he describes as a religious awakening in prison, Hempstead became convinced that he could persuade some of the corrections officers to stop abusing the inmates.
After what he describes as a religious awakening in prison, Hempstead became convinced that he could persuade some of the corrections officers to stop abusing inmates. He said he often would read them passages from the Bible, and that some staffers did begin to respond to his call for more humane treatment.
But after Rainey’s death — and after his letters that went largely unanswered — Hempstead felt compelled to do something more dramatic. So in April 2014, he asked a staff member at the prison to surreptitiously contact the Herald to report what had happened to Rainey, whose death had been handled as a routine in-custody incident.
The Herald began filing public records reports with Miami-Dade police and the Florida prison system. In short order, police detectives came calling on Hempstead.
From the outset, Hempstead said, he felt that detectives were trying to whitewash the case. In the 2015 interview, he noted that one of them didn’t turn on the recorder until he was prompted by his partner. Then, he said, they spent the better part of the interview trying to dissuade him from talking to the news media.
“They tried to extremely restrict my answers to only certain questions that they asked,” Hempstead said.
He persisted, however, and went into as much detail as possible, describing how corrections officers escorted the 50-year-old Rainey past several operable showers that night, and instead led him to one in a more remote corner, which was rigged so that its temperature controls were in an adjoining janitor’s closet.
State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle explained that the medical examiner’s report was the deciding factor in the case. Dr. Emma Lew ruled that Rainey had not suffered any burns on his body. The cause of death was complications from schizophrenia, heart disease and ‘confinement to a shower.’
“There is no way [the officers] can say that they didn’t want to harm him,” Hempstead said, explaining that the officers picked the only shower in the unit that was controlled that way.
In the end, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle explained that the medical examiner’s report was the deciding factor in the case. Dr. Emma Lew ruled that Rainey had not suffered any burns on his body. The cause of death was complications from schizophrenia, heart disease and “confinement to a shower.”
The manner of death: accident.
The reason for using the unit with the controls on the outside? Guards feared Rainey would resist turning on the water. This allowed them to do it for him, the close-out memo said.
When asked in 2015 how he would feel if no charges were brought in the case, Hempstead said it would send a disheartening message to America.
“To me, it would send out a strong alarm that the lives of people like Darren Rainey don’t matter,” Hempstead said. “The lives of people like Rainey — who are poor, black, mentally disabled prisoners, Muslims — I would appeal to all these groups, saying that if those lives matter, then let people know.”