Florida inmate is gassed to death after pleas for help
A group of Florida correctional officers excoriated a dead inmate on social media, saying that the 27-year-old prisoner — who suffered from a genetic blood disorder and died after being gassed by officers — deserved what he got.
The officers, writing on a private Facebook page for Florida corrections officers that has 6,000 members, called the inmate a “bitch,” an “a--hole,” and other expletives in a lengthy thread that followed the posting of a story published in the Miami Herald last Wednesday.
The Miami Herald could reach only two of those whose names were attached to the comments. One, who said he recently left the Florida Department of Corrections, acknowledged his post.
The Herald story detailed an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit, brought last year on behalf of the late inmate’s now-13-year-old daughter.
Randall Jordan-Aparo, who was serving a short stretch for credit card fraud, suffered from a rare disease, one that was noted in his medical file. After he asked for medical attention and it was denied, he became agitated, and was placed in confinement, where he pleaded urgently to be taken to the hospital. The officers sprayed him with chemicals to subdue him, then left him unattended, state records show. He was found dead on the floor, dusted in orange chemical residue.
Jordan Aparo’s ailment had flared up in the weeks and days before his death, causing him to experience severe breathing problems, a subsequent investigation by the Miami Herald found.
When a story was published last week in the Herald on the status of the lawsuit, it was posted on the Facebook page for corrections officers. The responses flowed. Some ridiculed the dead inmate, while others lamented that outsiders don’t understand the difficulties of maintaining control in a compound filled with violent offenders.
“I guess if he wasn’t acting like an ass, he probably wouldn’t have been gassed in the first place,” said one post. The apparent author is in the Florida Department of Corrections employee database. The Herald is not identifying him and others who could not be reached for comment.
“Who the f--- cares!!! Cost of incarceration = $32,000…money WELL saved!!!” said another person, described in his Facebook bio as working at the University of New Hampshire. A university spokeswoman said no one by that name has ever worked there. The name does appear on the FDC employee database, but it is a relatively common name and the Herald could not reach him.
“Hey, it’s good for a laugh,” said another commenter, listed as a corrections sergeant in the database.
“I am outraged,” said Julie Jones, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections.
“I am immediately launching a full investigation into any current staff member who made an inappropriate remark, and have engaged human resources and our legal office to ensure the strongest possible personnel action, up to termination of employment, can be swiftly taken,” she said.
After the Herald’s investigation, the agency instituted a policy mandating that all inmates who are sprayed with chemicals be placed in decontamination showers to remove the residue — a policy to which one officer commenting on the Facebook page objected.
“So this is the pr-ck responsible for us having to force a bitch into a shower after spraying … do they want us to overlook these pieces of sh--t when they show their asses, get high or refuse to behave like f-----g human beings,” says another comment, posted by the Facebook account of Chris Philipp.
The Herald reached a Florida corrections officer named Chris Philipp but he refused to comment and referred the matter to the department.
Other posts on the page questioned the Herald’s report, calling it untrue — and one group member, Justin Howell, wrote: “I would like to slap everybody associated with the Miami Herald in the mouth.”
In response, a different group member — also listed on the FDC payroll — posted a map with directions to the Herald’s office. He is listed as a corrections officer.
In an interview, Howell — who said he recently left the agency — acknowledged writing the post and said he regretted it. He said he was expressing frustration with the negative publicity that has been heaped on corrections officers, who work under difficult conditions.
“I acted without thinking,” he said. “It really aggravates me that 95 percent of these people are good officers and great people and they put their lives on the line for criminals who don’t care.”
Ryan Andrews, one of the attorneys representing Jordan-Aparo’s family, said the comments reflect the abusive and callous culture ingrained in the Florida prison system.
“Nothing’s been fixed over there. They’re still making jokes about Randall Jordan-Aparo’s death — it’s appalling,” he said.
He did, however, take comfort that someone thought the comments were disturbing enough that they copied the pages and sent them to the Herald. The source, a member of the closed group, expressed disgust.
The page was taken down after the Herald began asking questions about it on Friday.
John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents Florida police and correctional officers, declined to comment, saying he had not yet had a chance to review the posts.
Jordan-Aparo’s death was among hundreds of questionable inmate deaths investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in recent years.
After a cursory review, the department attributed Jordan-Aparo’s death to “natural causes,” but prison investigators looking into an unrelated allegation at Franklin started asking questions and found errors and evidence of a cover-up in his death.
Instead of responding to the investigators’ concerns, the agency retaliated against the investigators, which led to a lawsuit that the state settled for $800,000 last year. FDC officials violated their own policies and spent more time trying to discredit investigators than they did investigating Jordan-Aparo and other inmates’ suspicious deaths, a state panel ruled.
Two officers were fired after the Herald investigation. Four nurses and a doctor also resigned or were fired, and the warden has since retired.
The family is suing the agency, alleging it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying the state failed to provide Jordan-Aparo with the medical care he needed for his disability, Osler-Weber-Rendu disease, a rare disorder that affects blood vessels throughout the body and results in a tendency toward bleeding.
Late last month, a federal judge dismissed a motion by the agency asking that the suit be thrown out. FDC attorneys argued that the agency did provide medical treatment to Jordan-Aparo in the form of Tylenol.
The judge, however, noted that while providing the wrong treatment doesn’t necessarily violate the law, providing inadequate treatment could be considered deliberate indifference and discrimination based on his disability.
“A policy of treating strokes or heart attacks with aspirin and nothing more would not do. And so too here: Treating Mr. Jordan-Aparo’s life-threatening symptoms with Tylenol, as the plaintiff alleges occurred, would not do,” he wrote.