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


Sun Newspapers

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 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:

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 Fernández 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.”


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.

August 1, 2015

A Prison Nurse's look at Sandra Bland’s Death, by Paul Spector

George's Note: Paul contacted me shortly after I stepped forward publicly in the second of a series of Miami Herald articles, now exceeding 75, that exposed the prison brutality and cover-up scandal in the Florida Department of Corrections. Paul told me of horrific events he had knowledge of from working in the California Department of Corrections - many of which he describes in his essay.

I would encourage Sandra Bland's family to hire an independent Medical Examiner to do an autopsy. The family of Latandra Ellington, a woman suspiciously killed in the FL DOC, was found by the county medical examiner to have no visible signs of trauma. However, a second autopsy, paid for by her family, revealed abdominal bruising consistent with being kicked or punched. Never trust autopsy results from an ME that works in the same county as the offending agency.

A Prison Nurse's look at Sandra Bland’s Death 
by Paul Spector RN, EMT-P, CPT. U.S. ARMY Ret.

I worked as an RN in a California State Prison where staged “suicides” occurred regularly. I fought for my patients, know how the cover-up works and have some insights. In 2012, I was hit by a truck, so this paper is done with a lot of help, individuals risking jobs and lives.

Behind badges and Rank, Sociopaths lurk in American prisons. Cameras are their enemy.
With scant information, some of our conclusions will be proven wrong. As more is known, we feel there will be more lies, inconsistencies and abuse uncovered. With more data will come more clarity, but the Code of Silence must be penetrated. 

Prison deaths from mistreatment are mislabeled “suicide”, allowing continued abuse and avoiding lawsuits. I’ve spent 8 years trying to stop the practice that killed Sandra Bland.

Sandra’s capture, abuse and lynching is a hate crime. Usually the facts are buried with the bodies, thousands of bodies, but this is Sandra Bland, Star of Sandy Speaks. 

In prison, infliction of mental and physical agony on helpless captives provides sexual pleasure to sick individuals. No penetration is needed, violent predators value power and control more. Sandra’s treatment, particularly isolation, are techniques found in CIA prisons and Guantanamo Bay. They are unbearable and leave no marks. The UN calls it torture.

A big sociopathic thrill is causing the victim so much pain they kill themselves. At my prison, CMC, a sociopath’s playground, practiced professionals using drug overdoses combined with agony in a setting of strict isolation and neglect were used to induced “suicide”. Often the target is provided with a sharp object or a plastic bag. It’s still not suicide. Sometimes though, it’s a murder made to look like suicide. 

From the beginning, your driving is fine. Officer Encinia, spots you and does a U turn. Driving his cruiser aggressively, you pull over, unaware he is a predator. His act is for the camera, smoothly creating and escalating a confrontation to disguise your kidnapping as an arrest. He plans to assault you, this is about power and control, not your driving or your cigarette.

Using threats and a weapon Sandra is forced from her car. Everything that follows is for the entertainment of her abductors and has nothing to do with lawful detention whatsoever. After stealing your phone and removing you from camera range the coward attacks. Wearing a sheet, he might be OK with video but he needed the uniform to trick Sandra into surrendering.

The attack is vicious. Serious pain from metal cuffs and a wrist twist forces her to pull away, a practiced technique, part of a take-down. Following you to the ground, straddling you with knee on your spine and neck is the stuff of bondage and humiliation pornography, as is his screaming at you to stop fighting as he inflicts the worst pain of your life. 

This sick scenario is experienced primarily by sexual assault victims. I’ve treated these injuries in ER’s, they are consistent with gang rape. Like Sandra, not all such victims survive. Totally inappropriate here of course. Even without penetration, this is a savage, ultimately fatal, sexual assault.

He enslaves your body but not your spirit. That’s why he pounded your head into the ground. When terror and agony couldn’t break you, he went after your mind. A smart, strong Black Woman had no place in his world so he tried to kill you. He was afraid you would Speak.

Others joined in assaulting you off-camera, trusting the “code of silence” to protect them. You now need an ambulance. As an ER nurse and a paramedic, I’m angry your request is denied. Confused and injured, your booking photo reflects trauma, both physical and psychological. 

Isolation is used in N. Korea to break POW’s. Victims like Michelle Knight say it’s worse than the beatings, rapes, and starvation. It causes brain damage. Forcing Sandra to endure this additional torture was as cruel and unusual a punishment as can be imagined. It was, in fact, a death sentence, no trial needed. 

My patients were regularly poisoned with Gabapentin and other drugs. Your THC ingestion in jail is poisoning too, even if you took it willingly. Cavity searched, you take nothing in and eat what they give you or be force fed. Pot didn’t contribute to your death but may have made you easier to kill and pin your death on drugs. Blaming pot for your death indicates desperation.

The plastic bag, one of the few items in your cell, is too convenient and is not supposed to be there. Deadly as a gun or knife, don’t be fooled or misled, it’s not incompetence, not a mistake, it’s a weapon. It’s there for a reason. Everyone working in prison knows this. Suicided for a traffic ticket! This SCREAMS setup.

3 days and your wounds are still filled with dirt, infected. No TD shot? Pain or fever meds? Antibiotics? Neosporin? Ice? X-rays for your wrist’s, arm, shoulder, ribs and neck? A band-aid? Lab work? A CT after the bad man, happy you had epilepsy, pounded your head into the ground? Ariel Castro took better care of his victims, as, sadly, did most slave owners. 

The intake forms with questions on depression, suicide. Who filled them out? It should have been done with medical staff, but they would have treated your wounds, seen you were too traumatized to sign, corrected discrepancies, set up 15 minute checks, a suicide watch and seizure precautions at the very least. Ignoring dozens of cuts? There is no possible excuse, this paperwork reflects not just incompetence but intentional deceit.

In death, your body appears to be dehydrated, probably from neglect, fever, and internal injuries. Video shows guards drinking bottled spring water in front of you! At CMC disabling the sink to force victims to use the toilet for drinking induced dehydration. Using physical and psychological abuse, they sickened and tortured you beyond human understanding. 

Fellow prisoners were prevented from cleaning your wounds or God forbid, comforting you. Exchanging your pretty dress for ugly “pepto pink”, Officer Encinia gave your broken body to his co-workers, lying in his report. He doesn’t want you to Speak. Not ever.

An unbroken chain of cruelty striped you, a Champion of Freedom, of all Freedom. From smoking a cigarette to breathing air, no life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness for you. To these uncaring monsters it’s a fun sport, a prison lynching they fully expect to get away with. 

Nothing to do with a traffic ticket or cowardly Officer Encinas's “injuries”, these are the actions of sociopaths and racists. Armed, violent predators using badges as a weapon. Events during and after your killing are the result of planning. It is even possible you were targeted before the phony traffic stop as Officers can track plates. 

Locking you in a room with a dead phone and a garbage bag was intentional. Effective in separating you from your loved ones and rescue. The nonworking phone also justifies taking you to other locations, supposedly out of “kindness” but it’s a ruse. If you were removed from camera view, I suspect the worst. 

At CMC this would mean humiliation and “phone book” therapy - beatings with objects that leave no mark. Waterboarding and other airway obstruction techniques, like suffocation with a plastic bag are popular and also leave no marks. The rule is keep silent or it will happen again.

In California, Doctors incorrectly certifying “suicides” are paid by the State, Texas seems no different. The organization responsible for the racist Sheriff, Officer Encinia and the incredibly negligent prison staff is given every opportunity to do a through, professional job of tampering with the evidence. 

The fact your body did not show signs of a violent struggle is meaningless. Drugged or unconscious, restrained or not, the captive is 100% helpless. Use of a plastic bag to make murder look like suicide is a known prison technique. As a suicide method it’s hard to do with 2 good arms, beyond her now limited physical abilities, not part of Sandra’s knowledge base.

No defensive wounds will be found if the killers are prison workers. A big part of the game is “proving” they are smarter than the law by getting away with it. The FBI teaches them evidence procedure. Gloves on, killing with a plastic bag is easy, no prints, no struggling, no evidence.

Filled with purpose Sandra, release at hand, about to start your dream job, be reunited with your loved ones, your mission and your camera phone, you had zero motive for suicide. For you, it’s party time. Your abusers have the problem. They can’t let you Speak, a potent motive for murder.

Your faith in God, your life’s mission to make Black Lives Matter, made you, like Joan of Arc, unbreakable, a Warrior of epic proportions. With over 30 years experience, including in a Forensic State Mental Hospital, I assure you this is not and, for numerous reasons, could not, be suicide. Her death is a setup, staged. Sandra was kidnapped, violently assaulted and killed. She did not take her own life with a planted garbage bag! 

Prisons excel in cover-ups. False reports and coordinated lies now discredit Law Enforcement Nationwide. Black Lives continue to slip away as Grand Jury’s look away. Supported by tax dollars, teams of lawyers and military hardware, the carnage will not be stopped by bad publicity or wishful thinking - not in Waller County, Texas, State Prisons or anywhere else.

Paul Spector RN and friends

Individual thoughts:

President Obama, Sir, with all respect, Sandra died for your daughters, your wife, your country. She deserves the Medal of Freedom, not another cover-up.

Sandra, your sacrifice may very well change things.

If you had submitted to Officer Encinia he might have freed you or perhaps stopped beating you. If you had been weak, given in to fear and pain, you could not have confronted evil. You had to be so afraid and still you did this thing your life for others

I believe you are a Profit and a Saint. 

You surrendered to Law Enforcement knowing the evil that was upon you, predicting your own death. Kings and Queens weep. When the truck hit, I really did see a light filled with love. I believe Sandra is safe now.