Top inspector for Florida prisons under fire amid abuse reports

From: Tampa Bay Times, Feb. 8, 2015
By: Julie K. Brown and Mary Ellen Klas
Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Sometime in August 2013, Department of Corrections senior investigators Aubrey Land and John Ulm sat down with their boss, Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, to talk about possible corruption in the department.

That day and in coming days, they detailed how they had found evidence that corrections officers had lied and had falsified reports, and how some of their fellow prison inspectors may have sabotaged an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the 2010 death of an inmate at Franklin Correctional Institution.

Beasley did not seem overly concerned, one person who was at that initial meeting recalled, and instead complained that investigators were spending too much time with FDLE agents, who often turned every case into a longevity’ project. The comment didn’t sit well with FDLE special agent Ed King, a 25-year law enforcement officer who was in the room.

“Son,” King is said to have replied, “you ain’t in Atmore, Alabama, no more. We don’t just walk by and kick a rock every now and then. We turn them over to see what’s under them around here.” Beasley had worked in law enforcement in Alabama.

Turning over rocks is the job of the DOC’s inspector general, whose mission is to “protect and promote public integrity” and root out corruption in the department. “I think he is doing a great job,” Beasley’s boss at the Department of Corrections, Julie Jones, told the Herald/Times recently.
But, according to records reviewed by the Miami Herald, Beasley and his office have a history of dismissing allegations and avoiding prosecutions when it comes to suspicious inmate deaths and allegations of abuse and official corruption.

For the past eight months, the Herald and other news organizations have reported on a string of brutal, unnatural inmate deaths, on smuggling of drugs and other contraband by staff, and on purported coverups of wrongdoing.

Like pieces of a puzzle, these allegations and others have started to fit together for some members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, who have concluded the nation’s third-largest prison system has demonstrated it is incapable of policing itself.

Now, a long-shot idea advanced by reformers is gaining momentum. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a bill to undertake a historic restructuring of Florida’s prison system by creating an independent oversight board — with its own investigators — to hold DOC accountable. He has the support of a majority of lawmakers on the key Senate committee, according to various interviews, and a growing number of his colleagues in the House and Senate.

“We can rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic or we can change how we’re doing business fundamentally,” said Bradley, a former prosecutor, in an interview with the Herald last week. “To me, that demands an independent oversight of this agency at this point.”

Read the rest here.

After inmate deaths, Department of Justice to probe Florida prison system

This is from the Miami Herald, Dec 13, 2014:

By Julie K. Brown

Bernadette Gregory was getting out of prison in eight months and planning her wedding when she was found hanging in a cell at Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution.

Prison authorities say Gregory, 42, tied a double knot in a sheet, twisted it several times around her top bunk, looped the other end around her neck and hanged herself.

Despite relying on a wheelchair to get around, she did all of this in 11 minutes — while she was handcuffed, a detail the Department of Corrections’ investigative summary mentions only in passing.

Gregory’s 2009 death is one of many that don’t seem to add up but have nevertheless been tucked away in the department’s files, categorized as suicides, homicides, accidents or natural deaths.

With 320 inmate deaths tallied as of Dec. 8, Florida’s prison system is on track to have the deadliest year in its history. This rise in prison deaths coincides with an aging of the prison population, but also with a doubling of incidents involving the use of force by officers over the past five years.

Now, six months after the Miami Herald began an investigation into the questionable deaths of inmates in Florida’s state prisons, the U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the agency has violated the constitutional rights of prisoners. The Justice Department has sent letters to Florida’s three U.S. attorneys informing them of the inquiry.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article4457578.html#storylink=cpy

Break silence on brutal Florida prisons

This is from the Bradenton Herald, July 12, 2014:

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, suggested this week that, “If there is a problem,” within the Department of Corrections and the prisons and detention centers that it runs, “let’s fix it.”

However, there’s no “if” about it — there is a problem, a huge one.
Inmates are dying in Florida’s prisons, victims of torture and brutality. No one has been charged in these suspicious deaths, much less stood trial, despite the fact that one fatality has caught the public’s attention — the appalling case of Darren Rainey, who was scalded to death in 2012.
The FBI is investigating a prison riot in Suwannee. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also looking into an inmate’s mysterious death there. An inmate in a Panhandle facility died after being gassed repeatedly by corrections officers. And there are others.
Few state authorities, from Gov. Scott’s office to his inspector general to the head of Corrections, have leaped forth to avow that they will get to the bottom of whistleblowers’ and inmates’ credible allegations of institutional cruelty, tacitly tolerated by those in charge.
In fact, the silence has been so shocking that, thankfully, James McDonough, who headed Florida’s DOC under Gov. Jeb Bush, was compelled to go public, spurring long-overdue action:
• Tuesday, Mr. McDonough said in an e-mail: “I am revolted by what I am hearing, just as I am by what I am not hearing.” He added, “These cases did not end tragically last week; they ended in horrific and suspicious deaths some years ago. Where has the leadership been?”
Snoozing, apparently.
• Wednesday, the current chief of DOC, Mike Crews, finally roused, declared himself “outraged” — two years after Rainey’s death and two months after the Herald disclosed that he was strong-armed by prison guards into a shower stall and burned to death under searingly hot water.
• Thursday, a now-energized Mr. Crews suspended Jerry Cummings, the warden of the Florida City facility where Rainey died.
But none of this should be construed as leadership on Mr. Crews’ part. Backing and filling is more like it, unfortunately. Mr. Cummings is on paid administrative leave, but the two correctional officers who are said to have locked Rainey in the shower are still on the job.
Read the rest here, and also in the Huffington Post
lawsuit filed by four prison investigators claims Florida’s prison system is badly mismanaged and the results have been deadly.
The four filed a federal whistle-blower complaint on Monday alleging that state prisoners were beaten and tortured, that guards smuggled in drugs and other contraband in exchange for money and sexual favors, and that guards used gang enforcers to control the prison population. They claim those actions were either tacitly approved or covered up.
One of the most grisly examples of abuse mentioned in the suit, which was filed last week, is the death of 27-year-old inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo in September, 2010.
According to former inspector Aubrey] Land, Jordan-Aparo, serving an 18-month term for credit card fraud and drug charges, was placed in solitary confinement and gassed multiple times by guards after he had begged to be taken to the hospital for a worsening medical condition. Land, who said he stumbled on the death of Jordan-Aparo while investigating other “garden-variety” corruption and abuses at Franklin, said the prison’s medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors later conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events leading to the inmate’s death.
Another case mentioned in the suit is that of 50-year-old mentally ill inmate, Darren Rainey.
In May, 2014, the suit says, Rainey was put inside a scalding hot shower at Dade Correctional as punishment for defecating on the floor of his cell.
Read more here. and act appropriately to stop these abuses and change the system!

Scott names insider as Florida prison secretary

From: Miami Herald
Dec. 17th 2012

BY BILL KACZOR
ASSOCIATED PRESS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s new prison chief on Monday inherited a deficit of about $60 million and a legal dispute over privatizing inmate health care that he says could put his agency much deeper in debt.

Michael D. Crews spoke about the challenges he’s facing as secretary of corrections a couple hours after Gov. Rick Scott announced his appointment to succeed Ken Tucker, who retired. Crews had been deputy secretary since last year.

“I have total confidence in the people that I have the opportunity to work with here that we are ultimately going to get to where we want to be as an agency,” Crews told reporters.

He began his 26-year career in corrections and law enforcement as a probation and parole officer. Later, he worked as a correctional officer and then had various jobs in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement including director of the agency’s professionalism program and chief of its bureau of standards.

Scott, a former hospital chain CEO who was new to politics when elected in 2010, again has turned to an insider after initially appointing people without Florida government experience to many key posts when he took office nearly two years ago.

His initial appointee as corrections secretary, former Indiana prisons chief Edwin Buss, lasted just six months. Scott forced him out in August 2011 after initial health care privatization bids would have benefited a consultant whom Buss had hired. Scott’s office also overrode a decision by Buss to give MSNBC access to Florida’s prisons for its “Lockup” program.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/17/3145896/scott-names-insider-as-florida.html#storylink=cpy

Florida Prison Guard Fired for KKK Membership

This comes from: BET.com Staff

A Florida sheriff’s department fired a prison guard who admitted being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Wayne Kerschner, a corrections officer with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, was a decorated member of the White-supremacist organization who paid dues, attended out-of-state Klan rallies and blogged regularly on the KKK Web site, The Associated Press reports. His wife was also a member.

Kerschner described the KKK as a faith-based group and said that he believed in the organization’s ideology, AP reports.

The report states that Kerschner didn’t want his role in the group to negatively affect the sheriff’s office, saying that he thought he was a “pretty dang fair officer.”