The Florida Department of Corrections, in the wake of stories this week by the Miami Herald about alleged staff corruption and sexual abuse of female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution, on Wednesday provided new details about what it described as “ongoing’’ criminal investigations at the prison.
The probes involve evidence that was uncovered during the investigation into the Oct. 1, 2014, in-custody death of inmate Latandra Ellington.
The department’s spokesman, McKinley Lewis, first revealed late Tuesday — as the second installment of a three-part Miami Herald series about the prison was undergoing a final edit — that the department had recently completed an administrative investigation connected to Ellington’s death.
Ellington, 36, was found dead at Lowell 10 days after she told prison officials that a corrections officer had threatened to kill her. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigated Ellington’s death, discovered that prior to her death, Ellington had claimed that she spotted the corrections officer who allegedly later threatened her, Patrick Quercioli, having sex with an inmate. If true, that would constitute a third-degree felony in Florida.
The medical examiner, however, ruled that Ellington died of natural causes, and FDLE closed its investigation in January, finding no foul play. The autopsy concluded that Ellington died of heart disease. A forensic pathologist hired by the family to do a private autopsy — as well as two forensic pathologists consulted by the Herald — cited a potentially lethal level of Amlodipine, a blood pressure medication, in Ellington’s system.
After Ellington’s death investigation was closed, FDC’s inspector general either opened or reactivated three investigations. One was the administrative inquiry into whether any staff had violated policies, and the other two were criminal in nature. Details of those probes were not divulged until Wednesday.
The report on the administrative investigation was completed in the past several weeks, Lewis said. The heavily redacted document says a nurse was fired and a corrections officer was disciplined in connection with Ellington’s death. The agency said the portions that were blacked out of the report were done under various exemptions to the state’s public records law.
It’s not clear from the redacted FDC report why the nurse was fired, or why the corrections officer was reprimanded. However, the FDLE mentioned in its final report on Ellington’s death that corrections officer Talisha Eidson failed to conduct timely security checks during the period when Ellington died. Eidson, referred to only by her last name in the FDLE report, was the corrections officer who was disciplined.
The nurse, Ruth Lovely, was fired by Corizon, the healthcare company that provides medical care to Lowell’s inmate population. FDC’s inspector general report suggests that Lovely failed to call 911 in a timely manner after Ellington was found unresponsive in her cell.
The Herald began a three-part series Sunday on Lowell, the largest women’s prison in the nation. The result of a yearlong investigation, the articles, which conclude Sunday, are based on hundreds of pages of FDC reports obtained by the Herald, including four years of inmate complaints; inmate classification files, officer personnel records, facility audits and inspections. A reporter also spent six months interviewing current inmates, as well as former Lowell prisoners across the state.
The public documents, as well as the interviews, showed that officers and other staff at the prison allegedly had been subjecting inmates to sexual, physical and mental abuse.
The investigation also indicated that the Department of Corrections had a pattern of dismissing or ignoring incidents involving sexual misconduct by its officers.
Lewis said that the department still has an open criminal case involving threats that Ellington allegedly received from Quercioli, as well as another case involving a female inmate who told investigators and the Herald that she was the one having sex with Quercioli when Ellington spotted her. That inmate has been transferred out of Lowell.
Quercioli, who was fired by the department, has not responded to requests for comment from the Herald.