Guest Blog: FL Corrections Department Abuses

*The views expressed in this article represent the author’s and not those of the Make It Safe Coalition

June 23, 2012 – Darren Rainey’s life was ended by sadistic guards who locked him in a scalding hot shower and left him begging for his life as he boiled to death. His murder set in motion a series of events that are still playing out today. Initially classified as “an in custody death from natural causes,” Darren’s death was handled in the typical strategy the Florida Department of Corrections employed on numerous occasions – cover it up by any means possible – falsified reports and layers of bureaucratic red tape. Guards even went so far as to sabotage the video from the fixed wing camera. A supposed “malfunction” resulted in disrupted footage minutes after Rainey was locked in the shower stall – Richard Nixon would be proud.

The FL DOC cover-up had help from unlikely sources: The Miami-Dade Police Department’s Homicide Division and the Miami Medical Examiner’s Office. In a third-rate investigation, that apparently found nothing unusual about a man whose skin had peeled away from 90% of his body, detectives decided an in-depth inquiry was unnecessary. No inmates who were witnesses to Rainey’s killing were interviewed.

The Miami Medical Examiner did an autopsy, the results of which are still “pending” three years after Rainey’s death. Their excuse was, and still is, they are waiting for detectives to decide if there was a homicide. Police meanwhile point to the ME to finalize the autopsy so they can wrap up their investigation. The net result in this game of hot potato: No charges have been filed against the officers who put Rainey in the shower to die. Nor have any charges been filed against prison administrators who colluded to cover up the crime.

So the fix was on – the cover-up securely in place. Business as usual in the DOC. Except for two men – Harold Hempstead and me. He was housed together with Rainey in the psychiatric wing known as J3 – I once had an office there. Still suffering from PTSD, he heard Rainey’s anguished cries from his cell for well over an hour. Helplessly standing by and profoundly affected, Harold – a deeply religious man – knew he had no choice but to encourage the DOC to reopen the investigation. His sister Windy told me he had filed over 90 grievances to no avail.

Refusing to give up, Harold directed Windy to contact the Miami Herald. On May 18, 2014, reporter Julie Brown filed the first of what would be over 70 stories detailing the astonishing corruption, secrecy, and brutality within the FL DOC. I give tremendous credit to Harold Hempstead for coming forward at great risk to his life – no idle claim given the number of inmates who have been documented by the Herald as being killed by guards in retaliation for finger pointing.

After reading the story that Sunday morning, I contacted Julie Brown to corroborate Hempstead’s account. On May 20th, I stepped forward publicly in Julie’s second story detailing the abuses at the Dade Correctional Institution. How much I propelled the issue forward is anybody’s guess. What was certain was that it wasn’t another brutal account from a so-called “criminal” – destined to fizzle out like so many other prison news stories I had come across in my research. As a mental health professional who had worked in the Transitional Care Unit, I lent immediate credibility to Harold’s story.

I had been far from idle in the two years before the Herald story broke. I first heard the details of Rainey’s murder two days after it had happened from my former coworker Carmen. Her vivid description and our conversation would become the basis for the first chapter of my book called, Getting Away With Murder. Initially, I tried to get justice for Darren Rainey by exhausting every logical avenue I could think of – including a sit down interview with two FBI agents. Even after I gave them the stunning details of Rainey’s killing, they decided they didn’t have enough to do an investigation! Later, I filed a complaint with the Department of Justice specifying a host of abuses that occurred at TCU – beatings, torture, and the murder of Rainey.

Within days of the second Miami Herald story, I did a slew of local television and radio shows. I was contacted by numerous reporters for my perspective. I started getting calls and emails from those with relatives on the inside, desperate for any guidance I could provide to help keep their loved ones safe. With each new contact, I was hearing stories of abuse and retaliation that made the Herald stories seem like the tip of the iceberg.

Even while DOC Secretary Michael Crews was touting a “no tolerance” stance against inmate abuse, the killings continued. In October, I was invited to Tallahassee by civil rights attorneys, Parks & Crump, to speak at a press conference regarding the suspicious death of Latandra Ellington. She complained to her aunt she was afraid a guard would kill her. Latandra was put into solitary confinement for her protection – the next day she turned up dead. An autopsy paid for by her family found abdominal trauma consistent with being punched or kicked in the stomach.

Weeks later, I had my official book launch in November at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida. In attendance were three women I had spoken to previously about their sons who were incarcerated in Florida prisons. Two had sons with severe mental illness whose treatment was inconsistent and substandard – unfortunately a common theme. The third, Ada, had told me how her son was assassinated by members of a prison gang. She refused to accept the DOC’s version of his death and was seeking answers when she died unexpectedly. Ada’s energy, intelligence, and strength will be greatly missed.

Late December, I received an invitation to present before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee the first week of January, 2015. I spoke with the chairman, Senator Greg Evers, for an hour before the hearing. Evers impressed me with his earnestness and desire to deal head-on with prison brutality issues. To his credit, he later visited prisons unannounced – I was impressed. Even more so when the committee put forth a strong prison reform bill with an independent oversight committee some three weeks after the hearing. Unfortunately, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee followed with a gutted version. The House and Senate could not agree on what provisions should go into a final version so the prison reform bill remains in limbo.

Meanwhile, failing to placate his boss Governor Scott, DOC Secretary Crews “resigned” and later complained, “I guess you can say they were more concerned with the crafting and writing of news releases and that had little to do with the reality of what needed to be done to keep the institutions safe and secure.” In January, Gov. Scott tapped former Highway Patrol Director Julie Jones as his fourth prison secretary in four years. After initially making strong statements about accountability and transparency, Jones has backpedaled by silencing DOC investigators who spoke to the Miami Herald regarding cases that had been suspiciously quashed by Inspector General Jeffery Beasley. Jones’s attention seems focused on hiring more guards and getting funding to fix prison buildings. She continues to minimize the number one issue within the FL DOC: The culture of brutality and secrecy.

Today, June 23, 2015, marks the three year anniversary of Darren Rainey’s murder. While justice for him and his family has proved elusive, his death has not been meaningless. I believe when all has been said and done, we will point to Rainey’s death as the turning point in reversing the brutality that still characterizes the FL DOC. I will continue to publicize the Florida prison scandal on a national level. People need to know that in comparison, prison brutality far exceeds the police brutality we hear about on a weekly basis. Simply put, people with cell phones are not roaming around prison grounds taking video of abuses – it’s a felony to take a cell phone into prison.

A major focus of my work as a psychotherapist and human rights activist, is to advance the idea that the most cost effective means to treat mental illness is to catch it early. I worked in a middle school setting counseling at risk children. Many would have ended up in prison if not for a program that provided counseling, psych medication, and healthy boundaries provided by a low teacher to student ratio. Sadly, this program was disbanded for lack of money – no more safety net for mentally ill children in Miami-Dade County.

The criminalization of mental illness is a fact for many who find themselves in prison for no more than behavior consistent with their psychiatric diagnoses. Accordingly, it is essential to fund community mental health treatment centers as an alternative to the far more expensive and often inhumane prison alternative. Unfortunately, prisons are now the single largest providers of mental health services nationwide. Spend some money early or spend vast sums later in a last ditch effort in prisons poorly equipped to treat the mentally ill – the choice is ours.

About the Author
George Mallinckrodt worked for nearly three years as a psychotherapist in a Florida state prison psychiatric ward. Guards regularly tormented, beat, and tortured patients on his caseload. George was fired for his refusal to stay silent about a beating and other abuses. Mallinckrodt is a full-time human rights activist and frequent contributor to news stories regarding the treatment of the mentally ill in prison.

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June Whistleblower Hearings Coverage

Below is media coverage and links to the recent whistleblower-related hearings by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee. These hearings will help to establish a significant record for our advocacy and existing gaps in whistleblower protections.

McClatchy News Whistleblowers describe woes of reporting crimes, waste in federal agencies

Fire Dog Lake Whistleblowers Testify on High Risk of Retaliation They Face for Going to Congress

The Washington Post Whistleblowers tell Senate hearing about retaliation for reporting wrongs

CNS News Federal Air Marshal: Deputize Passengers to Deal with Threats in the Air

Government Executive Senators to Obama: Fill the Inspector General Vacancies

CSPAN Rep. Hunter Discusses Military Retaliatory Investigations

Blowing the Whistle on Retaliation: Accounts of Current and Former Federal Agency Whistleblowers

Full Committee Hearing
June 11, 2015 10:30AM
Location: SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building

Witnesses

  • Jason Luke Amerine, Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army
  • Taylor Johnson, Senior Special Agent, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Michael Keegan , Former Associate Commissioner for Facilities and Supply Management, at the U.S. Social Security Administration
  • Jose R. Ducos-Bello, Chief Officer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Thomas M. Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project

 

Oversight of the Transportation Security Administration: First-Hand and Government Watchdog Accounts of Agency Challenges

Full Committee Hearing
June 09, 2015 10:30AM
Location: SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building

Witnesses

  • The Honorable  John Roth, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Jennifer Grover, Director, Transportation Security and Coast Guard Issues, Homeland Security and Justice Team, U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Robert J. MacLean, Federal Air Marshal, Los Angeles Field Office, Federal Air Marshal Service
  • Rebecca Roering, Assistant Federal Security Director, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, U.S. Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Watchdogs Needed: Top Government Investigator Positions Left Unfilled for Years

Full Committee Hearing
June 03, 2015 10:00AM
Location: SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building

Witnesses

  • The Honorable  Michael E. Horowitz, Chair, Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight
  • Daniel Z. Epstein, Executive Director, Cause of Action
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Legislative Recommendations from a Whistleblower

Thomas Day, a U.S. Coast Guard Whistleblower, sent an open letter to the House of Represenatives titled “Acquisition Reform Begins with Zero Tolerance for Acts of Retaliation Against Whistleblowers

The letter can be viewed at: 2015-05-22-0700-03-01 TFD House Letter (2)

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Flying the Whistleblower-Unfriendly Skies

*This article was cross-posted, and the original can be viewed on POGO’s website at http://bit.ly/1GxfnSA

The law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks exposed another front in the evolving war to silence whistleblowers: the airline industry.

Last week, the firm wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and United Airlines condemning United’s use of a confidentiality agreement that forbids employees from discussing the subject of internal misconduct investigations without first obtaining the company’s permission. United’s confidentiality agreement came to light in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by 13 former flight attendants who were fired for refusing to work on a flight with unresolved security issues. According to the law firm, the plaintiffs “were concerned that the agreement United had forced them to sign effectively prohibited them [from] obtaining counsel and reporting the facts of their terminations to appropriate agencies.”

A similar confidentiality agreement used by federal contractor KBR was also discovered during civil litigation. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined KBR $130,000 after finding that the provision violated the SEC’s whistleblower protection rule. KBR will modify the agreement to make it clear that employees can report possible violations without having to obtain KBR’s permission and without fear of retaliation.

United, KBR, and humanitarian assistance organization International Relief and Development (IRD) are just three of a growing list of companies outed in recent months for having non-disclosure and confidentiality policies that stifle whistleblowers. IRD used a “non-disparagement” agreement, which forbids current or former employees from making disparaging comments about the company or any of its current or former officers and employees.

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General recently reported on the confidentiality policies of State’s 30 largest contractors, including DynCorp International, SAIC, General Dynamics, and Academi (formerly known as Blackwater). It found that all 30 have a confidentiality or non-disparagement policy that could have a chilling effect on employees who want to report fraud, waste, or abuse.

Katz, Marshall & Banks should be commended for alerting the FAA to what could prove to be an industry-wide effort to suppress the reporting of air safety concerns and violations of the law. We hope the FAA joins the SEC in cracking down on abusive corporate confidentiality and non-disclosure practices. Whistleblowers should not expect “friendly skies.” But with increased legal protections and agency enforcement, we can at least make their ride as turbulence-free as possible.

By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO

Neil Gordon, Investigator Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

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SILENCED Screening, America’s War on Whistleblowers

April 11 @ 3:00 pm6:00 pm

Goethe Institut

812 7th St, NW, Washington, DC United States

+ Google Map

How far would you go to tell the truth?

Get tickets now!

In SILENCED, Academy Award nominated documentarian James Spione investigates what really happened inside the U.S. security establishment after the events of September 11th, 2001 that caused it to radically change course in profound and lasting ways. The arc of post 9/11 history leading to today—an alternative, inside narrative—is revealed exclusively through three of the most important whistleblowers of the era, speaking for the first time in one film, who discuss in dramatic and unprecedented detail the evolution of the government’s increasingly harsh response to unauthorized disclosures. Exploring the unique courage and character it takes to challenge unethical behavior from within the American national security establishment, SILENCED offers a provocative critique of systemic failures of the U.S. government and its draconian over-reactions.

SILENCED includes exclusive first-person accounts from Jesselyn Radack, the former Justice Department lawyer who challenged the Bush Administration’s treatment of American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh; Thomas Drake, the former senior official at the NSA who helped expose the massive waste and illegality of the earliest warrantless surveillance programs aimed at American citizens; and John Kiriakou, the ex-CIA officer who was the first official to publicly acknowledge waterboarding as sanctioned government policy, whom we follow closely as he attempts to defend himself against Espionage Act charges while struggling to keep his family afloat.

Following the screening will be Q&A with Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, and film Director/Producer James Spione, moderated by IPS Director John Cavanagh.

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE.

Co-sponsors: Institute for Policy Studies, CodePink, and Government Accountability Project (GAP).  A special thank you to WPFW 89.3 FM for being the media sponsor of this screening.

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Congressional Investigation Finds Commerce IG Guilty of Retaliation

This week the Washington Post and Washington Examiner reported on laudable efforts by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee to have Commerce Inspector General Todd Zinser removed.

Although the Ranking Member detailed a litany of abuses that took place on Zinser’s watch, the most disturbing was extensive documented retaliation against whistleblowers, as well as surveillance of at least half a dozen government employees.

Yesterday Ranking Member Johnson sent a letter to President Obama requesting for Zinser’s removal from his IG position. The letter stated –

I am convinced that in order to establish an effective and ethically sound office a wholesale change in the top leadership of the Commerce Office of Inspector General is critically needed.  I call on you to remove Mr. Zinser from office immediately and to take such other steps as are necessary to appoint qualified senior leadership with high ethical principles to lead the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General.  I stand ready to support you in efforts to rebuild that office, reviving a sense of public service and accountability in the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General

The congressional investigation further unearthed that during Zinser’s Senate confirmation to become Commerce IG, he withheld information pertaining to a whistleblower retaliation case that he was party to.

Under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, each OIG is required to have a Whistleblower Ombudsman in order to help IGs ferret out waste, fraud and abuse while also upholding whistleblower protections. This rampant abuse of authority by an agency IG underscores the need for greater accountability, independence, and a zero-tolerance  whistleblower retaliation policy within all Offices of Inspectors General.

President Obama should exercise his authority and demonstrate leadership by heeding Congress’ call for the swift removal of Commerce IG Zinser.

Related Documents

Ranking Member Johnson’s Floor Statement

Ranking Member Johnson’s Letter to President Obama

Zinser Confirmation Hearing

OSC Request for Stay of Personnel Action 

OSC Petition for Enforcement

OSC Settlement Agreement

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