Editorials

Inmate Rainey’s death deemed not a crime; but an ‘accident’ — really?!

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office did not find credible evidence to file charges in Darren Rainey’s death.
Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office did not find credible evidence to file charges in Darren Rainey’s death. mocner@miamiherald.com

Harold Hempstead got “ghosted.” The rest of us, it seems, are being gaslighted.

No one will be prosecuted for the death of Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution who was put in a burning-hot shower — for two hours — then found dead in that small, confined space.

It was all just an accident. No malice, no intent.

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office says that there was not enough credible evidence to charge anyone, including corrections officers who were able to manipulate the shower’s water temperature.

However, just about everything leading up to this unsatisfactory conclusion made the — for all intents and purposes — exoneration of anyone culpable for Rainey’s death a foregone conclusion, too.

It is now 2017. Rainey died in 2012. A schizophrenic troublemaker, he soiled himself and his cell. He was walked to and locked in that shower, which several inmates said was used to punish those who misbehaved. Others, in supervisory positions, said that they were aware of no such thing.

The vicious, and suspicious, nature of Rainey’s death was only compounded by Miami-Dade police. The department treated the case as an unexplained in-custody death, writing it off until two years later, when Herald writer Julie Brown got wind of Rainey’s mistreatment and other abuses in state prisons. Then, and only then, did a police investigation kick into gear.

Which begs the question: Could they have found more-credible witnesses, more immediate recall, better evidence to give to State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office? It’s a given that this major metropolitan police department has its hands more than full. However, there remains a nagging perception of law-enforcement officers not going full out against their own. Plus, Rainey was a petty criminal, in prison for cocaine possession. Was his death not worth the effort?

Convicted burglar and key whistleblower Hempstead’s statements were deemed not credible. Ever since he went public with allegations of prison abuses he, for some strange reason, has become an itinerant inmate. On Friday, in advance of Rundle’s announcement that no crime occurred, Hempstead was spirited away, again, this time to a prison in Tennessee. The move was abrupt, made perhaps for his own safety, or to punish him. He had been imprisoned at Hardee Correctional in Bowling Green, outside Tampa. He’s now far from family, which was not told of the transfer until Monday. Since he blew the whistle on the Rainey case, he’s been moved — ghosted — to five prison facilities. What’s going on?

All of this begs another question: Where is the outrage? A man is dead at the hands of public servants — several of whom were allowed to leave DCI and get very nice jobs in law enforcement — and everyone from the medical examiner to the state attorney wants us to believe this was an accident. At the least, Rundle could have used her bully pulpit two years ago to get out in front of well-documented prison abuses beyond the Rainey case and call them out as unacceptable. Surely, her office’s stunning conclusion warranted a press conference.

Obviously, prosecutors can’t make a strong case on flimsy evidence. And no one should be unfairly accused in a misguided pursuit of justice. That in itself is an injustice. But no one should get away with what looks for all the world like murder.

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