December 16, 2015

Brutality in the largest women's prison in the U.S. This makes Orange is the New Black seem like kindergarten.

George's Note: For nearly three years, I worked as a psychotherapist in a Florida state prison psychiatric ward where severely mentally ill patients on my caseload were abused, starved, taunted, tormented, and beaten by correctional officers. After a patient on my caseload was beaten by guards, my attempts to raise the issue of patient abuse were met with silence. My vociferous advocacy for the humane treatment of our patients ended in my dismissal. Ten months after my departure, guards put a man named Darren Rainey in a boiling hot shower and scalded him to death.

DOC Secretary Julie Jones is not addressin
g the most pressing problem in the prison system---the culture of brutality and secrecy. I spoke to her in a 30 minute phone conversation in which she continually glossed over the issues. She continues to do the same thing in legislative hearings. My hope is that lawmakers can see through Jones's assertions and come to the truth---the FL DOC has not changed at all. It is the most morally and ethically corrupt agency in all of Florida and one of the top 5 most brutal prison systems in the U.S.

I speak to a number of people with relatives on the inside that are afraid to write grievances or letters home because they know guards rip them up and retaliate against them. Julie Jones needs a serious wake up call. The way the FL DOC is going now, she'll get one about a major prison riot. People who are brutalized and disrespected will lash out eventually. I know as I saw an example in my unit. A guard who constantly tormented patients had one break his nose. It's only a matter of time...

At Lowell, sex, death and a probe riddled with questions

BY JULIE K. BROWN
jbrown@miamiherald.com
 
OCALA - Patrick Quercioli was big and burly, and with pumped muscles and an elaborate Indian tattoo on his arm, he looked more like a bodybuilder than a corrections officer.

BEYOND PUNISHMENT: PART TWO OF A THREE-PART MIAMI HERALD INVESTIGATION

Though he’d been arrested twice — once for allegedly dealing steroids and again, on charges of beating a motorist in a fit of road rage — Quercioli managed to persuade the Florida Department of Corrections to hire him in 2004.

Prisoners say Sgt. Q, as he was known, was among the most menacing officers at Lowell Correctional Institution for women, a man whose patience was not to be tested. But on Sept. 21, 2014, one inmate dared to do just that, after seeing something she wasn’t supposed to see: Quercioli allegedly having sex with an inmate in C Dorm, in a rear bathroom behind the officers’ station.

Disgusted, the inmate — Latandra Ellington — vowed to report it, even though, according to her, Quercioli threatened to kill her if she didn’t keep her mouth shut.

Ten days later, after telling her family and prison authorities about the threat, Ellington was found dead in a confinement cell at Lowell.

The death of Ellington, a mother of four with only seven months left to serve at the nation’s largest women’s prison, is a case study in how the state of Florida often fails to fully investigate suspicious inmate deaths. The story includes an inmate who was seemingly too young to die, a controversial autopsy, unchecked leads, uncollected evidence, unresolved contradictions and, finally, a finding that she died of natural causes, even though she had anelevated — and possibly toxic — level of medication in her system.

Her death also unearthed a history of violence and abuse at Lowell, including allegations of corruption and of an almost unbridled physical, sexual and mental persecution of inmates by corrections officers and staff at the prison.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement closed the Ellington case on Jan. 21, 2015, with no findings of foul play. Ellington, 36, died of heart disease, the medical examiner said.

During the investigation, Quercioli, 51, and other officers were linked to possible sexual misconduct — a third-degree felony in Florida.

One Lowell sergeant was so disturbed by Ellington’s sudden death on Oct. 1 and the events that happened afterward that he took a leave of absence and secretly met with an FDLE investigator at a police department close to his home because he was too nervous about meeting at the prison. He told FDLE and the Herald that he suspected his commanders had been covering up prostitution, sexual abuse and corruption at Lowell.

The officer, Sgt. Berend Bergner, said that after he took Ellington’s complaint on Sept. 21, 2014, Quercioli and another officer, Dustin Thrasher, 31, threatened to beat him up. Bergner also told FDLE that the report he took from Ellington then suspiciously vanished from the sergeants’ office that evening.

Bergner, 32, told FDLE agent John Carlisle he suspected that Quercioli, Thrasher and other officers were giving inmates cigarettes in exchange for sexual favors, according to the FDLE report.

The Herald reached out to Quercioli’s and Thrasher’s attorney, H. Richard Bisbee, for this story, but there was no response to a request for comment. In a prior letter to the Herald, Bisbee noted that Quercioli wasn’t working the day that Ellington died, and FDC confirmed that he had taken comp leave from Sept. 24 to Sept. 30, returning to work on Oct. 3. Thrasher was on duty during that time, FDC records show.

Both officers were terminated from the department this August because, FDC said, they were unable to perform their duties. In a letter to the Herald, Bisbee said Quercioli had suffered severe emotional distress as a result of past media coverage on Ellington’s death and he threatened to sue the Herald if previous stories weren’t retracted and an apology issued.

Ellington’s family, who filed a civil lawsuit against the state in September, blames the Department of Corrections for failing to recognize that “employees, including [Lowell’s] assistant warden and/or corrections officers, were using excessive force, being sexually inappropriate with female inmates, and/or making threats of physical violence towards the inmates.”

The family alleges that Ellington was beaten and was subjected to inhumane treatment and medical neglect.

Barbara Wolf, the medical examiner who performed Ellington’s autopsy, said she found no evidence of trauma indicative of a beating.

What neither the autopsy nor the FDLE report noted, however, was that toxicology tests showed Ellington had a potentially toxic level of a blood pressure medication, called Amlodipine, in her system. Wolf, in a recent interview with the Herald, attributed the elevated Amlodipine to a process called “post-mortem redistribution,’’ in which levels of certain medications can increase in a person’s bloodstream after death.

Latandra Ellington’s mother was in and out of jail, but Ellington’s aunt, Algarene Jennings, (pictured here) stepped into the breach. “I called her Tangerine,” said Jennings, who raised Ellington as if she were her own child. “She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.’’ Emily Michot / emichot@miamiherald.com

Ellington’s level, however, was seven or eight times normal — an amount that should have been suspicious enough to investigate, particularly given the circumstances surrounding her death, according to two forensic pathologists consulted by the Herald, as well as a third hired by Ellington’s family.

Normal protocol would be for a medical examiner to note in the autopsy any drug levels that were out of the ordinary.

That was just one of many potential breaches in the wake of Ellington’s death. Among other issues:

The FDLE report shows that Ellington’s two-bunk, 10-by 12 “administrative confinement” cell — where she was isolated after clashing with Quercioli — was never processed as a crime scene. No fingerprints were taken, no DNA was collected. Trash wasn’t examined. Virtually nothing in the cell, from the drain in the sink to her toilet, was processed. No crime scene experts were called; no tests were conducted for trace blood, hairs or fibers.

The inmates and officers who served Ellington her meals weren’t interviewed. No inmate orderlies who worked in confinement that morning were questioned; many of the corrections officers and nurses who were seen on surveillance video coming in and out of her cell in the hours before she died weren’t named in the FDLE report. There’s no indication that FDLE investigators tracked them down, identified or interviewed them.

There were widely divergent accounts, unresolved in the FDLE report, about what medication, if any, was found in Ellington’s cell at the time of her death. The doctor who was first on the scene told FDLE there were empty packets of medication by her body, but the nurses and FDLE agents who checked her belongings said all of her prescriptions “were accounted for’’ and that only one pill was missing from one packet.

FDLE investigators questioned Ellington’s confinement bunkmate, Jaime Shepherd, who told them that when Ellington was placed in confinement, corrections officers took several packets of “KOP’’ (keep on person) medication from her because they were outdated. Shepherd said nurses came the following morning to give Ellington her medication, and recalled that Ellington told the nurse who delivered her medication: “I don’t really take these like that.”

It’s not clear what she meant, and FDLE did not address it in its investigation. The Herald contacted FDLE numerous times to ask for an explanation. Initially, the agency — designated to investigate all state prison deaths — declined to comment, saying the medical examiner’s finding of “natural causes” made further inquiry unnecessary. Weeks later, after more prompting by the Herald, FDLE sent the following statement:

“FDLE Agents conducted 38 interviews and reviewed 30 hours of video tape. Agents interviewed correctional officers and medical staff. Two FDLE agents and a field inspector from the medical examiner’s office searched Ms. Ellington’s cell. There was no trash to be examined and there was no indication of foul play.

“Despite that, FDLE investigated by conducting interviews and reviewing the video tape showing the outside of Ms. Ellington’s cell. The question of medication is not unresolved by investigators although that information cannot be released to anyone other than the next of kin. Upon review, FDLE stands behind its investigation.”

According to one veteran homicide detective, FDLE’s actions violated a basic principle of police work.

“You don’t wait for the autopsy to come back to treat a prison death as suspicious,’’ said retired detective Joe Matthews, formerly with the Miami Beach Police Department. “You must treat it as a potential crime from the very beginning because if you wait for the autopsy, if you wait for the toxicology, and you don’t do due diligence in asking the right questions, and collecting all the evidence, then it’s too late by the time the tests come back to retrace the trail.”

The Ellington family lawsuit also blames Corizon, the private healthcare company that provides medical care to inmates at Lowell. Corizon has declined to comment on the pending litigation.

William Anderson, hired by Ellington’s family to do a private autopsy

“She did not have heart disease, at least not at the time she died,” said Dr. John Marraccini, a forensic pathologist who reviewed the record — including slides of blood samples taken during the autopsy — at the request of the Herald.

“Her heart showed only slight damage. She may very well have developed heart disease [in the future], but she didn’t have enough to die from it at 36.’’ said Marraccini, who previously served as Palm Beach County’s medical examiner.
Mounting scrutiny

At the time of Ellington’s death, the Department of Corrections was facing mounting scrutiny over troubling reports suggesting that prisoners had, for years, been subjected to mental and physical cruelty. Overall Florida inmate deaths were climbing to a record high that year, and human rights activists were demanding federal intervention.

Gov. Rick Scott, on the verge of a close election in November 2014, had said little up to then about the controversy, although his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, was facing a lawsuit. The court action was filed by a handful of seasoned FDC investigators who claimed that the prison system’s top watchdog, Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, was sandbagging their efforts to investigate cases involving inmate abuse, death and medical neglect.

At the same time, another scandal was unfolding at Lowell. The assistant warden, Marty Martinez, was accused of having inappropriate relations with inmates and giving special privileges to young and pretty prisoners who were so cozy with him that they called him “daddy’’ or “Marty.” His behavior so disrupted the prison routine that officers began to fear it was causing a security risk. Martinez often moved inmates around and delayed critical head counts, an FDC investigation showed.

Martin Martinez, former assistant warden at Lowell, was dismissed after an investigation found that he had inappropriate relationships with inmates. FDOC

In July 2014, Lowell Sgt. John Meekins was so disturbed by the assistant warden’s actions that he filed a complaint with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. He claimed that Martinez had threatened to have him beaten up after he tried to root out the source of contraband being smuggled into the prison.

It was amid this controversy that Ellington claimed that Quercioli and other officers were flagrantly trading sex for tobacco, drugs and other contraband, fueling a black market of corruption within the walls of Lowell. FDLE, in its report on her death, recommended that the department investigate some of the allegations it had received during the probe.

When the Herald asked the FDC over the summer whether there were any pending investigations in connection with the Ellington case, spokesman McKinley Lewis said there were none.
Loss of privileges

The Herald has reviewed hundreds of complaints filed by inmates over the past four years that show clear patterns. The same officers are named over and over; the same kinds of abuse is detailed, right down to similar terminology the officers use when they allegedly threaten inmates. The reports, as well as interviews with former and current inmates and corrections officers, indicate that the prison continues to have a thriving sex trade in which inmates receive privileges and other forms of payment in exchange for giving officers sexual favors.

In nearly every case, the inmate who brought the complaint was promptly isolated in some form of confinement, a restrictive type of incarceration away from the general population. FDC says confinement in these cases is not a punishment, but a precaution to protect the inmate from the person she has accused of wrongdoing.

That’s not the way many of the women see it. When they go into confinement, they often lose basic comforts such as books and MP3 players, get less frequent showers and lose some access to recreation, inmates past and present told the Herald. They say their property sometimes isn’t returned to them when they get out. And, despite the fact that confinement is one of the few areas in the prison with video surveillance cameras, inmates can still be harmed, they say.

Meninea Culick, a former inmate, said officers gave special privileges and even money to inmates who were willing to beat up women in confinement.

She claims an officer once offered her a deal: If she would beat up a certain inmate known for being “mouthy and loud,” the staff would leave her alone for the remaining months of her sentence — which meant that she would not get any discipline, and would be the officer’s “pet.”

“All you have to do is put a lock in a sock and hit that bitch over the head,” Culick recalled the officer saying. She agreed to do it.

Ultimately she didn’t have to because the officer took care of it himself, she said. “He threw her down before she even got in the dorm, then stripped her and patted her down,’’ Culick, who was serving a one-year, 11-month stretch for check forgery, recalled.
2012 Arrest

Latandra Tynese Ellington was born June 9, 1978, in Bartow, east of Tampa Bay, and raised in Lake Wales, part of a region where bright orange citrus groves still dot dusty back roads like an old Florida postcard. Ellington was raised by her aunt, Algarene Jennings, and her grandmother, Jeanette Jones, along with an extended family of cousins, nieces and nephews.

“I called her Tangerine. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen,” Jennings said.

Ellington’s mother was in and out of jail, records show, mostly on drug charges. Jennings took custody of Ellington straight from the hospital and raised her like her own daughter. She also raised Ellington’s brother, Gerald.

Growing up in the Central Florida community wasn’t easy, Jennings said. African Americans who once held steady jobs harvesting oranges in the surrounding orchards were displaced by migrants and labor-saving technology. It remains tough to earn a living in Lake Wales, she said.

Ellington dropped out of school and worked a number of low-paying jobs, but soon began filing fraudulent tax returns. She married, had four children, then divorced. In 2012, her then-fiancé, Tracy Thompson, was arrested on charges of grand theft in connection with a tax-fraud scheme. Ellington turned herself in shortly thereafter to face similar charges. She was sentenced to 22 months, and set foot in prison for the first time just before Christmas of 2013.

She was housed in “Charlie” — or C Dorm — in Lowell’s main unit, an open-bay dorm with more than 80 other women, all of them assigned to bunks. Crystal Harper, an inmate who was released in August 2015, recalls that Ellington, known by the nickname “Tan,’’ was trying not to make waves because she was hoping to get time off for good behavior — known as gain time — and return to her children. Her inmate history shows Ellington filed few complaints and didn’t get into trouble.

The last time Algarene Jennings visited her niece at Lowell, Latandra Ellington seemed fearful to say too much. Two weeks later, she was dead. Her family has sued the state. Jennings treasures this keepsake from Ellington’s funeral.

She did file a grievance against officers who forced her to sleep on a top bunk even though she had injured her back and had a pass for the bottom bunk, records show. Jennings said Sgt. Quercioli had been harassing her niece, calling her trash and racial names. It’s not clear from the file how the complaint was resolved.

Ellington also suffered from hypertension and complained that she wasn’t getting her medication, Jennings said.

“The only way she could get her blood pressure medication is she had to ask for it,” Jennings said. “Then someone would give her a smart comment and tell her to put in a medical slip for it. On a regular basis she was not getting her medicine.

“Sometimes her head would hurt so bad she didn’t know what to do,” Jennings said.

The last time Jennings visited Ellington at the prison, on Sept. 14, 2014, Jennings said Ellington was distraught about something but seemed afraid to talk in front of the officers and other inmates. She was menstruating so profusely that the blood leaked through her uniform.

“She said ‘I’m bleeding real bad. If they run out of pads, they say to use your socks,’ ” Jennings said. Ellington told her she had two pairs of socks in her underwear to absorb the blood, but it wasn’t enough.

Jennings kept pressing Ellington because she could see she was upset. Ellington kept hinting that the officers were doing something “nasty,” but she wouldn’t go into detail because she was afraid, Jennings said.

On Sept. 21, 2014, Ellington wrote Jennings two letters, which were enclosed in an envelope with a return address from another inmate. Jennings later told authorities that Ellington suspected the officers were intercepting her outgoing mail because of what she had seen, so she asked another inmate to mail the letters. Both letters told the same story, alleging she had seen something that she wasn’t supposed to have seen. “Q” and Thrasher engaged in abuse of inmates, she said in the letters, which were given to FDLE as evidence. Ellington didn’t explain exactly what she had seen — but it was clear she was frightened of Quercioli, Jennings said.

“He was gone [sic] beat me to death and mess me like a dog,” Ellington wrote of Quercioli. “He was all in my face. Sqt. Q then he grab his radio and said he was gone bust me in my head with it. . . .”

FDLE said in its report that an inmate named Brandy Coulliette claimed that Ellington told her that she had seen Quercioli having sex with an inmate named Stephanie Cook.

“Sgt. Quercioli went to Ellington and told her she was not going to cause problems in his life, and that if she said anything, he would get rid of her,” Coulliette told FDLE, according to the report.

FDLE could not find an inmate by the name of Stephanie Cook. An inmate, however, did reach out to Carlisle, the FDLE investigator, earlier this year, claiming to be the woman who had been involved with Quercioli in the week before Ellington’s death, records show. The inmate, who is not named Stephanie Cook, agreed to an interview with the Herald, but did not want her name used for fear of retaliation by staff.

She said she was placed in confinement after talking to both FDC and FDLE.

SGT. QUERCIOLI WENT TO ELLINGTON AND TOLD HER SHE WAS NOT GOING TO CAUSE PROBLEMS IN HIS LIFE, AND THAT IF SHE SAID ANYTHING, HE WOULD GET RID OF HER.

The inmate acknowledged that she was having sex with Quercioli in the bathroom in C Dorm when they were suddenly interrupted. Thrasher, she said, was acting as a lookout when someone — she could not see who — walked in.

“Q was hollering. . . . They were describing this tall, black girl and how they were going to pack her out for running her f---ing mouth,’’ said the inmate.

The inmate, in a report separate from the Ellington case file, gave a statement to FDLE about her sexual encounter with Quercioli, records show. In an interview with the Herald, she said she told Carlisle that she had sex with Quercioli about four times, that the sex was consensual and that he never used protection.

Her father, who visited her at Lowell prior to her being transferred to another prison, said his daughter is frightened that something bad may happen to her.

“She is scared for her life. She said, ‘Daddy you don’t understand what it’s like in here. If you open your mouth here to the wrong person,’ she says, ‘at the least you’ll go down to lockdown for a long time, and [at worst] you can wake up dead.’ ’’
Alleged bender of rules

Before he was hired at Lowell Correctional Institution in 2004, Quercioli already had a history of problems with the law, records show. While employed as a corrections officer in training with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office in 1994, he was arrested for selling steroids. At the time of his arrest, he was working at a new boot camp for juvenile felons. He admitted to sheriff’s deputies that he had used steroids, the arrest report said. He was placed on leave and subsequently resigned from the sheriff’s office, public records show.

His Martin County employment record includes a letter from one of Quercioli’s superiorssaying that he had been repeatedly counseled and reprimanded.

“He continues to ignore department policy and acts as he pleases,’’ wrote Sgt. David Sansone. “He consistently manipulates and ‘bends’ department policies to benefit himself and shows no regard for supervisors or other officers, and he shows no respect for authority.”

The criminal charges were dropped when he agreed to undergo an 18-month drug prevention program, according to his FDC file. His law enforcement certification was suspended for two years, from 1994-1996, after which he was put on probation for another year, according to FDLE.

HE CONSISTENTLY MANIPULATES AND ‘BENDS’ DEPARTMENT POLICIES TO BENEFIT HIMSELF AND SHOWS NO REGARD FOR SUPERVISORS OR OTHER OFFICERS.

Sgt. David Sansone, talking about Quercioli

Quercioli became a personal trainer during his hiatus from law enforcement. Then in 2000, before having his certification reinstated, he was arrested again, accused of beating a motorist in a fit of road rage. According to the incident report, witnesses told Coral Gables police that Quercioli beat the driver so hard that Quercioli’s feet left the ground as he was leaning into the driver’s car. The driver had “swollen welts’’ above his eyes and on his forehead, the police report said.

Quercioli was charged with simple battery and received six months probation, court records show.

At the time he was hired by the FDC, he wrote a letter to his prospective employer to explain his arrests. He said that the steroids were really oil and water that were planted in his home by a disgruntled former girlfriend. He claimed that the road-rage incident was self-defense, and that witnesses apparently didn’t see how the motorist — the one sitting in the car — had threatened him first.
Death timeline

In its summary report on Ellington’s death, the FDLE offers a timeline from surveillance footage of officers and others coming and going in the second-floor quad, a grouping of confinement cells where Ellington was housed.

At 5:06 a.m., on Oct. 1, 2014, a female corrections officer who is unidentified in the report, along with a nurse, Donna W. Weeks, are seen at her door, the report notes. Weeks, an LPN, told investigators that after reviewing Ellington’s medical chart, she completed a Medication and Treatment Record and supplied her with three pills. But upon reviewing the form after Ellington’s death, FDLE investigators said the names of the pills were illegible.

After Ellington questioned what she was being given, Weeks told her they were “two of this and something else,’’ Shepherd, the cellmate, said.

The video shows that at 6:05 a.m. an unidentified female corrections officer and an unidentified inmate passed out food trays to Ellington’s cell, and another corrections officer picked up the trays at 6:16.

Danielle Canovan, one of the inmate orderlies who helped serve food that day, told the Herald in an interview that orderlies picked up the carts in the kitchen with the breakfast already packaged, then rolled them down to confinement. There, they were separated for each of the quads.

Danielle Canovan, an inmate orderly who helped pick up the prepackaged breakfasts and roll them on a cart to confinement, said it would have been difficult but not impossible to taint the food given to Ellington. FDOC

“I can’t even specifically remember that morning — that’s how normal it was,’’ Canovan said.

Canovan recalled that Ellington’s cell was in an area where there were no orderly helpers, which is why officers served them their trays. She said it would be very difficult, but not impossible, for someone to taint Ellington’s food.

“There are covers on every tray. The food is not sitting there in the open,’’ she said. She said she was not interviewed by FDLE.

At 7 a.m., another unidentified female corrections officer made a round of checks, and she is seen looking through the window of Ellington’s cell.

From 8 to 11 a.m. there is no record on video of anyone doing checks on Ellington’s cell, although checks are supposed to occur every 30 minutes, the FDLE report said. The corrections officer assigned to monitor the quad that morning, identified in the FDLE report by the last name “Eidson,” admitted that she missed her checks between 8:52 and 10:01 a.m. The video, however shows a three-hour window with no checks.

Shepherd, the bunkmate, told FDLE that she and Ellington both fell asleep after breakfast, then woke up about 9 a.m. She said Ellington seemed fine. Later in the morning, they went back to sleep and Shepherd told FDLE that she was roused by Ellington’s snoring.

In addition to her “really loud” snoring, both of Ellington’s fists were clenched. She was lying on her left side, facing the wall of the cell.

When Eidson finally returned to the cell at 11 a.m., it was lunchtime, the FDLE report said. Shepherd said she tried to shake Ellington to wake her up. Her eyes were partially open, but she didn’t respond. Shepherd summoned Eidson, who kicked the door to try to get Ellington’s attention.

ELLINGTON’S FAMILY IS CALLING FOR AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO HER DEATH, POSSIBLY BY THE FBI.

Another officer then arrived with the keys,and Shepherd was relocated to another cell. Eidson and officer Joni Moore shook Ellington and got no response, the FDLE report said. Medical assistance was called, but it was too late.

“Eidson, she was very upset and barely spoke for days after that,’’ Canovan recalled.

The doctor on duty, Jose Rodriguez, arrived to find officers doing CPR. He touched Ellington and she was cold. Paramedics arrived about 11:15, and she was pronounced dead at 11:20, the FDLE report said.

Rodriguez reviewed Ellington’s chart, noting that she was taking three different medications, the FDLE report said. The names of the medications are redacted from the FDLE report. Rodriguez told FDLE investigators that he noticed medication in her cell, and that one of the prescriptions — one that was filled on Sept. 20 — was missing more than would be expected.

“This indicated to Dr. Rodriguez that the particular medication was misused or taken inappropriately by the inmate,’’ FDLE’s report said.

Rodriguez’s statement contradicted those of the nurses who responded to Ellington’s cell that morning.

The last time Algarene Jennings visited her niece, Latandra Ellington, at Lowell she seemed upset but fearful to talk about it in front of guards or other inmates. Within a couple of weeks Ellington would be dead. Emily Michot / emichot@miamiherald.com

A nurse who came in after Ellington’s death, Angela Hanlon, reported recovering a large blister pack of medication in a drawer under Ellington’s bunk. The pills were blood pressure medication. She said there was only one pill missing — and she could find no other medication or empty packets in the cell, the FDLE report said.

There’s no indication in the FDLE report whether agents ever tracked through the chain of personnel how Ellington was supplied her medications.

The FDLE report mentions that Ellington’s family told investigators they received “multiple” tips from inmates, alleging that Sgt. William Weiss and his wife — a nurse at the prison, according to these tips — forcibly injected Ellington with drugs before she died.

In December — two months after Ellington’s death — her sister, Kawana Robinson, told FDLE agents a bizarre story that she hadn’t mentioned previously: that inmates — she did not say who — claimed that Weiss and a nurse “Jackson’’ ordered Ellington to hold out her arm for an injection.

“Ellington told her she was not ill and wanted to know what the injection was,’’ the FDLE report said. “Jackson again ordered her to hold out her arm and Ellington refused, and that is when Weiss assisted nurse Jackson in forcing the injection into Ellington. . . .’’

Carlisle noted that he would follow up, but there’s no indication in the report whether he did.

Weiss is married to a nurse, Donna Jackson Weiss. Corizon, the private company that provides healthcare at Lowell, confirmed that Jackson worked as a nurse at Lowell but said she had left the prison’s employ before Ellington’s death. She is friends on Facebook with Weeks, the nurse who gave Ellington her medication that morning. The Herald was unsuccessful in reaching William and Donna Weiss, as well as Weeks.
Unauthorized relocation

Bergner, the corrections officer who took Ellington’s complaint on Sept. 21, said he believed that Ellington was truly frightened when he first encountered her, as she was being moved into his dorm that Sunday evening.

In a recent interview, Bergner said everything about that day was odd. For one thing, he explained, Ellington was being moved on a Sunday, when moves are never made. Another staffer named in the report, Maj. Gary Patterson, also told FDLE investigators that Ellington’s move was done without permission and had not been authorized through the proper channels, the report said.

Ellington told Patterson and Bergner that Quercioli and Thrasher ordered her to move from C Dorm to A Dorm that Sunday, the FDLE report said.

“Not only was it a Sunday, and inmates aren’t moved on Sunday, but it was 7 a.m., before count time,’’ said Bergner, who resigned from the department this past summer because he said he couldn’t deal with the corruption.

“She was crying and told me she was being harassed and she was going to be killed. I knew at that point that it was very dangerous — the tone of voice that she had, her crying, you can tell especially after working 10 years with the department — you can tell when an inmate is sincere or not.”

He told her to fill out a witness statement.

“I didn’t have a chance to read it. It was a very busy day and the statement was front and back and it was a lot to read,’’ he recalls.

He put the report into a binder where he kept other records for safekeeping. He told FDLE he didn’t turn in Ellington’s statement right away because he didn’t trust his shift commander, an individual he claimed had blown off similar complaints involving sex and inmates.

About two hours later, Quercioli and Thrasher confronted him about the report. According to the FDLE report, Sgt. Weiss witnessed the confrontation, telling agents that the two officers had “hunted down” and “barked’’ at Bergner.

“They were saying we could pretty much take care of it in the parking lot, which means they would do harm to me,’’ Bergner told the Herald. “It basically means a beat-down off prison grounds. I was very stressed out.’’

THEN I GOT REALLY SCARED. NOT FOR ME, BUT FOR MY FAMILY, BECAUSE IF THEY WERE ABLE TO GET TO HER, THEY WOULD BE ABLE TO GET TO ME. I JUST FELT, PERSONALLY, THAT SOMETHING WASN’T RIGHT.

Sgt. Berend Bergner when he saw Ellington’s photograph on the TV news and learned she had died

Later that same day, Bergner had to write up another report involving Quercioli. An inmate, Stephanie Bell, claimed that Quercioli had beaten her up when she tried to declare a mental health emergency, according to FDC records. Bergner, who also had to use force to subdue the inmate that day, said she was unruly. But the video showed Quercioli used unnecessary force, Bergner told the Herald. She was dragged in the mud and covered with dirt, according to the FDLE — and the FDC incident report.

When he got home that evening, Bergner realized he had left his binder at work, in the sergeants’ office. He called the prison, and was told it was gone. He panicked, and drove back to the prison, a 45-minute trip, to look for it. It wasn’t there.

“I ended up taking a stress leave the next day,’’ he said.

About a week later, while still on leave, Bergner saw Ellington’s photograph on the TV news and learned she had died.

“Then I got really scared,’’ Bergner said. “Not for me, but for my family, because if they were able to get to her, they would be able to get to me. I just felt, personally, that something wasn’t right.’’

He arranged to meet FDLE investigators, insisting that they rendezvous far from the prison. They met on Oct. 14, 2014, at the police station in Williston, 31 miles from Lowell. Bergner gave a detailed statement to Carlisle, the investigator, the FDLE report said.

ALL THREE FORENSIC PATHOLOGISTS CONSULTED BY THE HERALD AGREED THAT THE LEVEL OF AMLODIPINE IN ELLINGTON’S SYSTEM WAS HIGH ENOUGH TO CAUSE HER HEART TO FAIL.

Bergner told Carlisle that Ellington reported that Quercioli and Thrasher were having sex with inmates, and that she had caught Quercioli with one inmate that day. Ellington did not complain she had been physically harmed, but was clearly afraid.

He talked not only about the conversation with Ellington, and the threat by Quercioli, but also about an incident two weeks before Ellington’s death when another officer observed Quercioli in a compromising position with an inmate, the FDLE report said. Bergner told that officer to write up the incident, but said he was overruled by a captain, the FDLE report said.

He told FDLE about other incidents, including a time he discovered a letter that an inmate was trying to shove in her mouth. It appeared that it had been written to a corrections officer, and that the two were engaged in a relationship. He turned the letter over to the FDC’s inspector general’s office, Bergner said, but a few days later, the IG’s office told his superior that there was insufficient evidence to investigate, the FDLE report said.

“The lack of pursuit in that investigation caused doubt for Sgt. Bergner that the department could be trusted to investigate the incidents involving Sgt. Quercioli and Ellington,” FDLE said in its summary report on Ellington’s death.

Bergner, who has been disciplined twice during his career — once for excessive absences and once for failing to conduct security checks — returned to work from his medical leave only to leave for good several months later. He said he was suspicious about some of the things in the FDLE report on Ellington’s death.

“I went back to [FDLE] several times. . . . There were some discrepancies. I wanted them to be aware that some of the names contained in it seemed almost like they were changed around on purpose so they couldn’t get to the truth,” Bergner said.

Coincidentally, the day Ellington died, a former Lowell inmate contacted the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to allege that Quercioli and other Lowell officers were trading sex for cigarettes and other contraband, according to an FDC report. Pinellas detectives wrote up a report and referred it to the FDC’s inspector general. Other than issue a one-page report saying the complaint had been received, there’s no indication it was investigated by FDC.

Pat Franklin, a former Miami Beach police detective who now works as a police internal affairs expert, said it’s clear that neither FDLE nor the prisons’ inspector general wanted to conduct a thorough probe of Ellington’s death. It’s telling, he said, that FDLE apparently didn’t investigate the threats that were allegedly made — in front of witnesses — against Bergner.

“These complaints were of a serious nature warranting investigation,’’ said Franklin, who reviewed FDLE’s report into Ellington’s death, as well as the autopsy. “The consistency of these complaints would tell a rookie out of the academy that something was amiss.”

Ellington’s family is calling for an independent investigation into her death, possibly by the FBI.

Dr. John Marraccini, former medical examiner for Palm Beach County, reviewed the autopsy of Latandra Ellington at the request of the Miami Herald. He questioned the finding that she died of heart disease.

The forensic pathologists consulted by the Herald, Marraccini and Cyril Wecht, said the high level of blood pressure medication likely would have interfered with normal cardiac activity. Dr. William Anderson, hired by Ellington’s family to do a private autopsy, said he is shocked that the autopsy didn’t even mention the medication.

“Somebody should have seen it,” he said. “They had to see it. I just think they were trying to put it out of sight, figuring that nobody else would pick up on it.’’

Dr. Wolf, the doctor who did the autopsy, conferred with the Marion County State Attorney’s office after the Herald showed her the issues raised by Anderson, Marraccini and Wecht — all three of whom agreed that the level of Amlodipine in her system was high enough to cause her heart to fail.

The state attorney asked Dr. Bruce Goldberger, chief of forensic medicine at the University of Florida, to look at the toxicology findings.

Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney, said Goldberger agreed that the level of Amlodipine in Ellington’s blood was high, but said that it was the result of post-mortem redistribution and that the concentrations increased after her death.

“He was confident that these drugs did not contribute to her death,” Ridgway said.

Both Marraccini and Wecht said they believe the level of Amlodipine in Ellington’s system was far too high to attribute it to post-mortem redistribution.

“In my opinion, this is a death due to drug toxicity,’’ said Wecht, a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences who has reviewed a number of high-profile autopsies, including those of John F. Kennedy, JonBenet Ramsey and Elvis Presley.

“It’s not even a close call.”

After the FDLE closed its case into Ellington’s death, the corrections department’s inspector general opened an internal affairs review of possible officer/medical staff misconduct. Lewis, the FDC spokesman, said the administrative investigation — completed just recently — ended with a Corizon nurse being fired. Eidson, the officer who failed to conduct timely checks on Ellington, was disciplined.

The allegations made by Bergner as well as those made by the inmate who claimed to be sexually involved with Quercioli are still open criminal investigations by FDC’s inspector general’s office, Lewis said Tuesday.

October 18, 2015

Please Read the ACLU Letter to the US Department of Justice requesting a CRIPA investigation of the Florida Department of Corrections

George's Note: The following letter from the ACLU to the US Department of Justice covers only a fraction of the abuses inmates face on a daily basis in the Florida Department of Corrections. Despite DOC Secretary Julie Jones's insistence that improvements have been made, she consistently fails to mention the culture of brutality that is alive and well. Jones is doing little to eliminate a culture that is multi-generational and deeply entrenched.











I'll be on a radio show this morning at 10:30 EST

Good Morning!

I'll be on a radio show to speak about the recent letter the ACLU sent the Department of Justice requesting that the DOJ open a CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) investigation into the Florida Department of Corrections. Joining me on the show will be Randall Berg, Executive Director, Florida Justice Institute. He's sued the FL DOC on countless occasions.

Tune in!


George Mallinckrodt

August 18, 2015

Courageous 85-year-old Woman Risks Felony Charges to Tell What Really Happened in Secret Grand Jury

George's Note: 85-year-old Louise Salcedo is my hero. She has single handedly lifted the veil of secrecy regarding grand jury deliberations in the death of Matthew Walker, who was clearly beaten by multiple corrections officers in violation of prison policy. Find out how Grand Juries really work. From now on, you will question the validity of grand jury findings that are shaped by "legal advisers" from state attorney's offices unwilling to prosecute on behalf of a "criminal" or their family.

I would rather have my taxpayer dollars be spent in a losing effort to convict amoral, sadistic guards than winning a conviction against the severely mentally ill who end up in prison for no more than a manifestation of their mental illness. State attorneys are too concerned about their conviction records to care about true justice. They fear prosecuting correctional officers and police  - whose unions will shift support in future elections to prosecutors who will look the other way in prison and police brutality cases.



Florida Prisons

AUGUST 16, 2015

Charlotte County grand juror: We knew guards were guilty of killing inmate

BY ADAM KREGER

Sun Newspapers
PUNTA GORDA 

A local grand juror, among the group that decided in June not to charge any Charlotte Correctional Institution officers in the homicide of inmate Matthew Walker, feels she’s been silent too long.

“It has really bothered me all this time,” said Louise Salcedo. “We all knew they were guilty and should have been prosecuted, but we were talked out of indicting them. This man was beaten to death.”

For Charlotte County grand juries, like the one that heard testimony for the Walker case, the state attorney’s office for the 20th Judicial Circuit is in charge of examining witnesses, presenting potential evidence and giving legal advice to grand jurors. There were three legal advisers from the state attorney’s office assigned to the Walker case on behalf of Stephen Russell, the circuit’s State Attorney.

“They told us the chances of convictions were very slim,” Salcedo said. “I find it baffling ... very confusing.”

Russell, saying he couldn’t comment on a specific case, said, “I appoint legal advisers I am confident will be fair, balanced, straightforward and make it very clear the grand jury makes the final decision.”

Multiple state agencies examined Walker’s death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. The prisoner got into an altercation with correctional officers after he refused to tidy up his cell during a late-night cell check in April 2014 (the check was later found to be a policy violation).

Walker’s larynx was crushed, and he took several blows to the head, neck and torso. Investigators determined five of the dozen corrections workers involved could have potentially faced criminal charges.

Salcedo said the legal advisers told the grand jury a conviction was unlikely because it is difficult to determine which guards delivered which strikes to the inmate. The incident was not caught on video because the cameras in that part of the prison weren’t working, and much physical evidence was tainted. So, a conviction would have had to rely heavily on testimony of uninvolved witnesses, who were prisoners themselves.

Tom Flynn was a defense lawyer for more than three decades in St. Louis before retiring to Punta Gorda a few years ago. He represented clients that were the subject of grand jury proceedings, and said the grand jury goes along with the prosecutors’ recommendations “99 percent of the time.”

“We had a couple cases similar to” the Walker case, Flynn said. “When prosecutors don’t want to prosecute someone, the grand jury is a perfect way to take the heat off of them. They hide behind a grand jury to get a decision they want, but don’t get the blame.”

Flynn said he doesn’t always understand why prosecutors don’t push for charges.

“If you go to trial and lose, at least you tried,” Flynn said. “I think [Walker] deserved that.”

Others agree.

A community-driven candlelight vigil was held outside the Charlotte Correctional Institution on Wednesday. The ceremony remembered Walker’s death and aimed to let state officials know people want justice for the homicide and others who have died at the prison.

The names of grand jurors are not released. The Sun was able to reach the grand jury foreman in the Walker case only because his signature is legible on the grand jury’s report of findings, or presentment — a rare public record available in the case. Contacted by the Sun, the foreman said he didn’t want to talk without first checking with the state attorney’s office. He later declined comment, citing the oath that swore him to secrecy.

Salcedo swore to the same oath, but the 85-year-old Port Charlotte woman has been second-guessing the decision she helped the grand jury make, and says others might be, too.

Salcedo risked a felony charge by contacting the Sun after no other grand jurors came forward to talk about what happened for those eight days they met this summer.

“After reading everything in the paper, I feel guilty that I maybe could have done something better,” Salcedo said.

The grand juror said she believes all the guards present during the fatal beating “were guilty of watching this and not stopping this.”

“You couldn’t get anybody to admit anything [on the witness stand], which makes sense because they all cover each other’s butts,” Salcedo said.

August 13, 2015

Miami Herald calls for reduced sentence for whistleblower inmate Harold Hempstead

George's Note: Just to be clear, I am not the "counselor" mentioned in this editorial!

I am in agreement with a dramatic sentence reduction for Harold Hempstead. His courage has to count for something. But let's not stop there. Insanely long sentences for the mentally ill must be reduced as well. Mental illness has become criminalized as a consequence of a culture that provides few treatment alternatives for the poor and disenfranchised. If you're rich - go to Betty Ford. If you're poor - go to prison! Treatment of the mentally ill in a prison psych ward amounts to nothing more than a last ditch effort with below average outcomes.

Let's take a closer look at older inmates in Harold's category - men and women who've served excessively long sentences for nonviolent offenses. Florida is chock full of those who've been in prison 20, 30, or 40 years and longer. As inmates age, the greater the costs, at taxpayer expense, to keep them in prison. Sensible and intelligent sentence reform would save taxpayers millions while treating those, who more than "paid their debt to society", in a manner more humane than possible in the FL DOC - an agency riddled with corruption and brutality.

Miami Herald: Editorials

AUGUST 12, 2015

Inmate — and public servant

Forgive Harold Hempstead for not being perfect. He’s a felon serving a 165-year prison sentence in the series of Florida prisons. He’s a convicted burglar whose life of crime started as a teenager. He has also seen, and been forced to participate in, the horrors that rogue prison guards carry out as sport against inmates, especially the mentally ill.

And he has managed to hold on to his humanity. For that alone, he deserves a shot at a second chance.

At great risk to his safety — and his life — Hempstead, 39, blew the whistle on the abject violence he had seen in prison, the worst of it meted out by guards who made degrading, torturing and even killing inmates a routine part of their jobs. Unfortunately, he had to blow that whistle long and loud before anyone would listen, especially authorities in the Department of Corrections.

Clearly, prison guards have a tough job. But the corrections system in Florida — and so many across the nation — still are riddled with guards who have lost almost all sense of human decency. Not Hempstead. He was sickened by the violence he had witnessed at the Dade Correctional Institution. The horrific death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate locked in a scalding shower, pushed him to the brink.

He told prison doctors and nurses, then a counselor, DOC officials, the Miami-Dade police and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. No one raised an eyebrow.

The Herald, specifically reporter Julie Brown, listened. And that’s when Hempstead’s allegations got traction. And action only after months of stories that did a deep dive into the violence that the state sanctioned by its silence.

There have been changes for the better: Among them, guards have been fired for excessive force; there’s an inmate mortality database — that must truly become a public account of prison deaths; new DOC chief Julie Jones has a welcome mandate from Gov. Scott to overhaul DOC; corrections officers are to receive crisis-intervention training; and DOC has ordered surveillance cameras to be installed throughout the system.

But so many loose ends remain: More than three years after Rainey’s death, his family has yet to be told by the medical examiner how he died. That is cruel, unacceptable. And no matter where inmate Hempstead is imprisoned, he remains in danger from being the “snitch,” a derogatory term of intimidation that prevents too many people who know something from doing the right thing. It would behoove the DOC to be far more proactive in ensuring his safety. His blood on the agency’s hands would rightly bring a storm of outraged inquiry as to why he wasn’t better protected. In fact, DOC has yet to interview Hempstead about Rainey’s death. Again, unacceptable.

He is serving a 165-year sentence for a series of nonviolent crimes, sentenced in 2000 by a judge who told him, “I hope you die in prison.” In this state, murderers can walk free from prison in what seems like the blink of an eye. By all accounts, Hempstead, of St. Petersburg, has become an exemplary inmate, and given the depth and breadth results that his powerful story has forced, his extreme sentence, indeed, deserves a second look. Yes, he must pay a debt to society, however even some criminal attorneys concur that his judge’s comments are reason enough to ask the court to reconsider, and perhaps reduce, his sentence. This would be more than time off for good behavior. Rather, it would be time earned for his transformational public service.

August 8, 2015

The Inmate Who Exposed Florida prisons’ Culture of Cruelty - Possibly Miami Herald's Julie Brown's most important article about the FL DOC brutality and secrecy scandal

George's Note: I knew Harold Hempstead from when I was still working in the psychiatric ward at Dade CI. He was housed in J3 - steps away from my old office and where Darren Rainey was killed. Concerned about inmate abuse, he told me how guards, thinking he wasn't listening as he did custodial chores, amused themselves with the latest torment they perpetrated on mentally ill patients.

Many know that I took steps to bring Rainey's killer to justice after a former coworker called two days after his scalding death and blurted out, "THEY KILLED HIM!" But my efforts pale in comparison to Harold's ongoing campaign inside the FL DOC. I am awed by his courage and tenacity.

I worry about Harold given the ability of the DOC to get rid of people who have the temerity to question their cover-up philosophy. It's my hope this added publicity will protect him somewhat. Please take the time to sign the petition below to protect Harold Hempstead. It is no exaggeration to say that he is at
risk daily of being murdered while he is still in the control of the Florida Department of Corrections.



Florida Prisons

 AUGUST 8, 2015

The inmate who exposed Florida prisons’ culture of cruelty






HAROLD AND SISTER WINDY

BY JULIE K. BROWN

Harold Hempstead is a man with two conflicting narratives. One is a criminal past that sent him to prison for life. The other, a courageous pursuit of justice that has shaken the corrupt and crumbling foundation of Florida’s prison system.

Hempstead didn’t set out to be a hero and, perhaps to some people, he isn’t a hero at all. But it is likely that no one would have ever known about the death of a mentally ill inmate named Darren Rainey, or about the systemic culture of physical and mental abuse of inmates in Florida prisons, had it not been for Hempstead.

Hempstead’s steadfast determination to expose the monstrous acts he says he witnessed ultimately brought about an overhaul of the agency, the firings of top corrections officials and officers, federal arrests and an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hempstead did all this from a prison cell — and in spite of threats, intimidation and a haunting fear that one day he would suffer “an accident” and never wake up.

“What he did took real courage,” said Malcolm Tomlin, a retired Florida corrections officer and prison minister who led Bible studies with Hempstead at Dade Correctional Institution.

“He saw something was wrong and he took a stand. … He was blackballed with the officers. That will go with him wherever he is sent. But he did what was right.”

Hempstead reached out to the Miami Herald — ultimately maintaining a correspondence and engaging in regular phone calls, one as as recently as Friday — after authorities ignored his pleas to investigate the death of Rainey.

The convicted burglar didn’t always do the right thing. At the age of 13, Hempstead was already stealing and getting into trouble on the streets of St. Petersburg, where he grew up the youngest of three siblings. While still at 16th Street Middle School in St. Petersburg, he was recruited by detectives, who paid him handsomely to give them tips that helped them solve crimes, according to confidential police reports obtained by the Herald with Hempstead’s permission.

By his early 20s, however, he had started to fall out of favor with police, some of whom tried to arrest him a couple of times, not knowing that he was engaged in intelligence gathering for another detective squad. One time, he was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, but the charge was dropped after the cops accepted his explanation that he was playing a role, setting up a drug dealer, the records show.

But it was a dog named Molly that really led to his undoing.

In 1999, police investigating a rash of burglaries in his neighborhood found the dead German shepherd’s ashes in a stolen urn, along with about $200,000 in pilfered loot stashed in a U-Haul at his home. He was charged with 38 burglaries.

Though he had no history of violence, the judge, calling him “a despicable human being,” sentenced him to 165 years in prison. He was just 22 when he entered the Florida prison system.

Pinellas County Circuit Judge Brandt Downey III, accused prior to that of tainting jurors, was later defrocked in a pornography scandal.

For all intents and purposes, time has no meaning for Hempstead, who is now 39. He unsuccessfully appealed his sentence, and sued or filed hand-written motions against the police, the judge, the prosecutor and even his own lawyer.

Over the past 15 years, Hempstead has developed a deep religious faith and now worships and reads the Bible daily. He has enrolled in dozens of correspondence courses, earning certifications in everything from paralegal work to mopping up hazardous materials. Eventually, in 2010, he was trusted enough to move freely about the confinement units — a more restrictive form of incarceration than general population — as an orderly at Dade Correctional Institution south of Homestead.

The facility, set amid farm stands and alligator swamps on the edge of the Florida Everglades, has been described — even by staff and officers who work there —as a squalid, un-airconditioned, putrid hell. Up until late last year, the roofs, the plumbing and the electrical systems were deteriorated, and the kitchen was so filled with rodent droppings and infested with roaches that it flunked several health inspections and was designated a health hazard during an audit last year.

“In many housing units, it was not possible to turn showers and faucets off completely, but in one dorm the drain was so clogged that water ran out on the housing floor. In D housing unit, there was a broken light fixture hanging from the ceiling above an occupied bunk,” auditors found, among other hazards listed in the report.

Hempstead had already seen the inside of almost half of Florida’s 49 state-run prisons, and to him, Dade really wasn’t any worse than the others.

By that time, he said, he was used to seeing horrible things in Florida prisons: inmates being starved, beaten, sexually assaulted, mentally tortured by officers and gassed for no reason. Officers putting laxatives in inmates’ food, urinating on their clothing and toothbrushes and paying inmates to attack other inmates. Sick inmates begging for medical care, only to be told they were faking. Even basic necessities like soap and toilet paper were often rationed to make their lives more miserable.

But at Dade, while working in the TCU, or transitional care unit that houses mentally ill inmates, he said he witnessed officers punish and torture prisoners who were the most vulnerable — those who were so sick they had no control over their faculties.

Hempstead grew up around mental illness. His father, an alcoholic, died when he was 7, and he and his brother and sister were raised by their mother, who was committed to psychiatric hospitals off and on for as long as a year.

“I did want to help my mom out with the issues she had, going in and out of hospitals. She would tell me about the things that happened to her, being tied down and stuck with needles. As a child I couldn’t help my mom out and I wanted to,” Hempstead said.

He tried helping some of the inmates at Dade, slipping them food or arranging to get prisoners a mattress when they had none. But, in many instances, there was really nothing he could do without being punished himself, so he did what he was ordered to do — even if it meant preparing a bucket of chemicals to be thrown on an inmate to get him to behave.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article30490770.html#storylink=cpy

Then, in January 2012, the guards came up with an even more creative and sinister way to torture prisoners in the mental health unit: placing them in scalding hot showers to control them.

“Then it hit me,” Hempstead recalled. “It felt like 1,000 pounds of sadness fell on me. It overtook me. I was in my cell crying. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Taunted and tormented

On June 23, 2012, Darren Rainey, a 5-foot-6 inmate, was handcuffed by officers. Rainey, 50, had been at Dade only a few months and was serving a two-year term for drug possession.

Rainey, a Muslim with whom the Christian Hempstead had little in common and scant contact, suffered from severe schizophrenia. On that evening, on the pretext that Rainey had misbehaved by defecating in his cell, two officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clarke, the latter a 6-foot-4, 300-pound former college football lineman, led him to a 12-by-3 shower stall.

They threw him a bar of soap, locked the door, then turned on the water, which was cranked up to more than 180 degrees. According to Hempstead and other inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past year, the officers laughed and taunted Rainey as he begged for forgiveness, gasping for air in the scalding steam. They then left, and when they returned nearly two hours later, Rainey was dead, with pieces of his skin floating in the water.

Inmates would later say they were ordered by officers to clean up the shower with bleach, throw away the fragments of his skin and never speak about what happened or, they were told, they, too, would face the same fate as Rainey.

“The shower treatment,” as it was called, was used by officers on other inmates, Hempstead explained in one of many interviews with the Herald. It was first used to control inmate Daniel Geiger, who chattered incessantly, annoying officers. The guards sometimes purposefully placed him in a cell next to another inmate they wanted to punish.

“Geiger was the loudest inmate in the unit. He was 110 pounds and constantly being deprived of food. I would have thought if anyone would have collapsed and died it would have been him,” Hempstead said.

He recalled that one of the inmates suggested putting Geiger into the shower to shut him up, and it worked.

“He kept screaming, ‘It’s hot, get me out of here!’ Then, after 10 or 20 minutes, he stopped yelling. I think they put him in there three or four times,” Hempstead said.

As the orderly who served inmates their food trays, Hempstead saw how the officers devised a system for depriving prisoners of food, sometimes for weeks. They came up with names for this treatment, possibly inspired by football terminology.

“A two-point conversion meant no lunch or dinner for two days. A six-point conversion was no lunch or dinner on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”

Some inmates dropped so much weight that Hempstead said one guard — a sergeant since promoted to lieutenant — would proudly announce “Welcome to Auschwitz,” when someone new came into the unit.

Hempstead said hungry inmates would break sprinklers just so they would be charged criminally with vandalism and be transported to the Dade County Jail — where they would finally be fed.

“It was definitely evil. There were times when they were laughing as they were starving inmates. A lot of it was hard to deal with,” he said.

Although the autopsies give another cause, Hempstead believes two deaths that occurred while he was working in the TCU could be attributed to the punitive lack of feeding.

“You know, I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but nothing I did resulted in somebody dying,” he said.

Hempstead was initially apprehensive about reporting what he saw. At first, he quietly confided in the doctors and nurses who worked for Corizon, the private healthcare company contracted by the state to provide medical and psychiatric care for inmates.

But it soon became apparent as the months went by that they would do nothing.

“I threatened the doctors, told them, ‘If you don’t do this, I’m going to get your license.’ They took an oath. I just wanted them to report it, but they wouldn’t,” Hempstead said.

The corrections officers grew bolder and began other abusive tactics on the inmates. Sometimes, they would place a violent inmate in the same cell with a smaller prisoner they wanted to punish and walk away, allowing the brutal inmate to beat or sexually assault the other inmate, Hempstead said.

In December 2012, Hempstead was transferred out of Dade Correctional to another prison, and it was then that he began in earnest to report what was happening at the prison.

At one prison, he spoke to a psychiatric counselor.

“I told her what they were doing and she looked at me like I was telling her a story out of a horror movie. A week later, she said, ‘We’re going to talk about something else.’ She didn’t want to talk about Dade anymore,” Hempstead said.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, other inmates who had been transferred out of Dade were also reporting what happened. Their complaints to the Department of Corrections also went unheeded.

Dade’s former warden, Jerry Cummings, in an interview last year, admitted he heard that inmates in the mental health unit weren’t being fed, but said he couldn’t do anything about it because he couldn’t prove it.

The cameras in the unit, he said, only captured the guards giving the inmates trays; it was not discernible whether the trays had food on them, he said. In prison parlance, an empty tray is known as an air tray.

“I would walk in there and the inmates would beg for food, for soap, for a toothbrush,” Cummings said. “The officers held all the power and if they didn’t want to feed them, they wouldn’t feed them.”

Records show that Hempstead wrote dozens of letters and complaints about the abuse throughout 2013, sending them to the Department of Corrections, to Miami-Dade police, to the Miami-Dade medical examiner and to the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fern√°ndez Rundle, which inexplicably returned them, telling him to write to the state attorney in Pinellas County, where Hempstead was convicted. All the crimes he alleged happened were in Miami-Dade, not Pinellas.

He wrote to Gov. Rick Scott, who took office in 2011 pledging to slash $1 billion out of the Department of Corrections, the state’s largest agency. Scott’s office forwarded Hempstead’s complaints to Jeffery Beasley, the DOC’s inspector general. They were all returned to Hempstead with no action, for various reasons. Among them: that he filed the wrong form or that his grievance didn’t affect him personally.

“I had written a dozen or more letters, with maps of the shower, maps of the TCU. I sent them to the medical examiner and Miami-Dade police, but nothing happened,” Hempstead recalled.

For two years, Rainey’s case languished in the case files of Miami-Dade police, who were entrusted with investigating it; and with the Department of Corrections, whose inspector general’s office suspended its investigation four months after his death, in October 2012, with no action.

It appeared that Rainey’s death would be written off as just another in-custody death, likely the result of natural causes. Rainey’s brother, Andre Chapman, who lives in Tampa, said the only thing he was told about his brother’s death was that he suffered a heart attack.

“If someone put you or I in a scalding shower like that, I think we might die of a heart attack, too,” said Chapman’s attorney, Milton C. Grimes.

Hempstead, meanwhile, was shuffled around the prison system, and with each stop, it seemed the officers knew about him and his crusade. They made it clear they wanted him to shut up.

“It started with them searching me and ransacking my cell,” he said. At the prison system’s Reception and Medical Center, north of Gainesville, one officer reminded him how officers at the prison used to kick the gold teeth out of inmates’ mouths — and said they used to bury other inmates in the rec yard.

“He said, ‘You know, people can just die here. Some people die from luck.’ I asked him what he meant and he said, ‘It would be luck for us, not luck for them.’’’

Hempstead was sent back to Dade in June 2013 — a year after Rainey’s death. Clarke — one of the officers who forced Rainey into the shower — was in charge of his dorm.

“He started calling me his dog, and he was bragging about beating the Rainey rap,” Hempstead said.

Then one day, in April 2014, Hempstead enlisted a friend on the inside of the prison to call the Miami Herald. In order for a reporter to interview Hempstead, he was told he needed to write the Herald, giving its representative permission to visit him.

The first letter he wrote to the Herald was seized by the officers. At 3 o’clock in the morning, Hempstead said he was led into a control room, where the guards forced him on the floor and interrogated him for more than an hour, demanding to know why he was writing to a journalist. They vowed to throw him in solitary confinement — forever, if necessary, unless he kept quiet.

“My biggest fear was going to confinement because I had seen plenty of things that they did to inmates in confinement. It’s easy for them to put medicine in your food; you can O.D. an inmate. I worked there and knew all their tricks,” Hempstead said.

He was scared but pressed on. An interview with the Herald was finally arranged, then abruptly canceled by the DOC. It was rescheduled. By then, a reporter had started digging, and submitting public records requests to the police, the medical examiner and the prison agency.

Hempstead was also submitting public records requests from behind bars. He ordered reports from the police, the prison system and other agencies.

On May 23, 2014, the Herald published the first in what would be a series of stories about Rainey and other suspicious deaths and assaults of inmates in Florida prisons.

Over the past year, the agency’s secretary was replaced, wardens and corrections officers were fired, the FBI made arrests, the state Legislature called for hearings, and the governor and new secretary, Julie Jones, enacted reforms. Partly due to prodding by a civil lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Florida, Dade’s transitional care unit has been renovated, complete with new surveillance cameras, TVs and a wall mural.

Despite all that’s been done, Rainey’s case remains open, his autopsy is still filed away in the medical examiner’s office and his family hasn’t been told how and why he died.

To this day, no one from the Department of Corrections has interviewed Hempstead about Rainey. In a statement Friday, the agency said it continues to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies investigating the case.

“In my opinion, because Rainey was black, poor and mentally ill, to a lot of people his life had no significance,” Hempstead said recently. “But to me, if we have that opinion on the value of life, and if staff thinks they can get away with killing inmates, then they are going to get away with anything.’’

Miami Harold

These days, corrections officers and some inmates call Hempstead "Miami Harold," owing to his frequent talks with Herald journalists. His friends and family continue to refer to him as Joey, his middle name.

Because Florida has no parole, he must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, despite an exemplary record behind bars that has shaved a few years off his sentence. He is not scheduled to be released until 2161, nearly a century and a half from now.

Like Hempstead, some 60 percent of Florida’s 100,000 inmates are serving time for nonviolent crimes. Florida is second only to Louisiana among states with the largest number of inmates serving life for nonviolent crimes, according to a 2013 analysis of state and federal statistics by the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the time Hempstead was sentenced in 2000, Judge Downey told him: “I hope you die in prison.”

“The problem with Mr. Hempstead is he thought he was smarter than everybody else,” said Downey, now retired and living in Indiana. “He was arrogant, abrasive, sort of an ‘I know better than you’ kind of person.”

The prosecutor, Pat Siracusa, recalls that, at the time, Hempstead’s case was one of the biggest burglary trials in Pinellas County. It involved more than 80 witnesses and 350 pieces of evidence. Hempstead was accused of being the mastermind behind a burglary ring that stole everything from deer antlers to gold watches.

At trial, his accomplice testified that Hempstead taught him everything, right down to picking out which residences to break into, how to get in and how to get out undetected.

“He hit neighborhoods he was familiar with, places where he had cut lawns,” Siracusa said of Hempstead. “It was a lot of stuff and a lot of lives that were disrupted.”

Hempstead insists he didn’t break into homes, but acknowledges he fenced stolen goods. The accomplice who fingered him served no time in prison.

One of the victims, Jeff Fineran, said he had about $7,000 worth of property stolen, though he managed to have some of it returned. He recalls wanting Hempstead to get a stiff sentence, but was surprised at just how harsh it was.

“He didn’t take somebody’s life,” Fineran said. “I think he should have a long sentence but not where he won’t ever have a free breath of air. Forgive and forget. All I can do is pray for him.”

Siracusa, who is now a judge, remains convinced that Hempstead deserves to be behind bars. But he declined to comment on whether, had he been the judge, he would have imposed a 165-year sentence.

Bob Dillinger, who has been public defender in Pinellas County since 1997, doesn’t recall the case, but he did remember Hempstead’s judge. Dillinger once attempted to have Downey removed from 200 cases because the judge made derogatory comments about a defendant to a jury.

Downey later acknowledged his comments in that case were improper and sent letters of apology to the six jurors who decided the case in 1999.

Downey, a 17-year veteran of the bench, continued to generate controversy, including accusations that he made improper utterances toward female litigators. And in 2005, after a virus infected the courthouse computer system, technicians tracked the problem down to Downey, who had been using his office laptop to look at pornography.

He retired a year later as part of what was essentially a plea deal brokered with the Judicial Qualifications Commission that was approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

The judge’s comments from the bench in Hempstead’s case should have been enough to grant him a new sentencing, said Jeff Weiner, a Miami criminal defense attorney and former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“That judge made comments that were completely inappropriate and out of context to the crime that he committed,” Weiner said.

‘Protective management’

Hempstead is now housed at Columbia Correctional Institution in north-central Florida, one of the state’s toughest prisons. State corrections officials call his status “protective management.” He believes that is a misnomer, and that protective management is one of the most dangerous places in a prison.

“I’ve been through just about everything you can be subjected to in prison just short of being killed,” said Hempstead. He spends most of his days in a 12-by-10 cell with no air conditioning.

After his most recent transfer out of Dade — for his own safety, after the Herald quoted him by name, with his permission — he lost all the privileges he enjoyed while working as an orderly.

Hempstead is now linked to “a high-profile investigation,” and has limited privileges. He is allowed to go to chapel two hours a week and has access to gym equipment. Still, in the summer, when temperatures climb to 90 degrees or more, inmates sleep on the concrete floor, along with rodents and insects.

The others in protective management include some of the most vicious inmates at Columbia, some of them placed there after they were accused of beating or sexually assaulting other inmates.

“I just thought, what kind of a place did they send me to? It seemed like a killing ground of inmate violence,” Hempstead said.

He has filed a lawsuit — the latest in a series of long, handwritten court pleadings over the years — seeking release into the general prison population, saying that he has been traumatized by all the violence he has witnessed in Florida prisons.

“What rationale is there that he gets a longer sentence than most people who commit murder?” asked Howard Finkelstein, Broward County’s chief public defender.

“The interests of all people in Florida have been served by this man by revealing the horrors and violence of both corrections officers and inmates. Because of him, we are the better for it.”

PRISON IMPROVEMENTS

Since Harold Hempstead revealed details of the death of Darren Rainey, a series of changes have occurred, including:

1) Corrections officers in the mental health ward at Dade Correctional have been reassigned. The two officers most directly involved in putting Rainey in the scalding shower have left the agency. The warden and assistant warden were forced to retire.

2) The U.S. Justice Department initiated an investigation into Rainey's death.

3) The head of the prison system, then-Secretary Michael Crews, instituted crisis-intervention training for corrections officers, two new centers to help inmates re-enter society and new policies aimed at improving accountability among officers.

4) Crews turned 82 inmate death investigations over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and FDLE was assigned to handle most future in-custody death investigations.

5) Crews created an “inmate mortality database" to publicly account for the deaths of Florida inmates.

6) Crews ordered a department-wide audit of use of force against inmates, which had doubled over the past five years.

7) Crews summarily fired over 32 corrections officers involved in excessive force against inmates.

8) Dade Correctional's mental health unit was renovated to include high-tech cameras with audio, televisions and murals. An ombudsman was assigned to oversee patient treatment and care.

9) Crews retired, and his replacement, Julie Jones, was given a mandate to overhaul the agency.

10) Jones rebid of the agency’s healthcare contracts.

11) Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order calling for an independent audit of the entire prison system, focusing on staffing, organization and ways to improve safety, security and the rehabilitation of inmates.

12) New surveillance camera systems were ordered installed throughout the prison system, and Jones has proposed putting air conditioning in all facilities.