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:

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!

Chicago Police Torture Victim Grayland Johnson found dead inside his Stateville prison cell this morning in Joliet, Illinois

From Facebook Notes, written by Mark Clements, Dec 5th 2012:

This morning Tuesday, December 4, 20112 at approximately eight o’clock Grayland Johnson, a Chicago Police Torture Victim was found dead inside his prison cell. The Campaign to End Torture (“CET”)  was immediately notified and made attempts to confirm the death through the Illinois Department Corrections, however Prison officials would not either confirm nor deny the death. Johnson family was notified through the (“CET”) and at this hour the family is yet to be notified by IDOC officials. Johnson served over sixteen years in prison for a murder which evidence seem to suggest that he was innocent of the crime. What was more clear is that Johnson was taken to area three violent crime unit, beat and tortured by detectives working under the command of Jon Burge.

Johnson has claimed that while in police custody his head was stuck inside a toilet bowl, he was hung outside the window by police and physically beaten throughout his body. Because Johnson was a big ranking gang leader in south Chicago he has been viewed as guilty. Johnson often called me at the offices of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to complain of never being notified about court status and court proceedings by his attorney. With the death of Johnson it takes with him a great mobilization that he and other inmates started, the “DEATH ROW TEN” inmates that had been tortured under the command of Burge. Cards to the Family can be sent to: Mark Clements, Att: Grayland Johnson, Suite #105, 1325 S. Wabash Ave., in Chicago, Illinois 60605.

At this 9:40PM hour the family of Johnson still are yet to be notified of the death by Stateville Correctional Center prison officials. When inmates die for whatever reason, it appears to be unethical how prison officials can delay notification of a death to immediate family. Please think of Mr. Johnson and his family in your prayers.

Lost In the Hole: Mentally ill felons locked in own hell

The Salt Lake City Weekly published a 4 part story about Uinta 1, Utah State Prison, the supermax, where we have been publishing stories about written by one of its inhabitants, Brandon Green. A few years ago, we knew they were planning to write about the situation inside this draconian hellhole, and finally they did.

Written by Stephen Dark, posted in the SLC City Week Sept 26th, 2012.

Here is Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Please also read:

Prisoner Rights Advocates Call for Probe Into Beating Death of Maine Inmate

From: MPBN

06/08/2011 Reported By: Tom Porter

An inmate severely beaten at the Maine State Prison in Warren two weeks ago has died. According to the Department of Corrections, 51-year Lloyd Franklin Millett, who was serving time for two murders, died last night at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Maine State Police are investigating, and prisoner advocacy groups are urging state authorities to do everything they can to bring those responsible to justice. They’re also asking for a more thorough investigation of two inmate deaths that occured in 2009.

Read the rest here. Rest in peace.

Mentally Ill Inmate Starves to Death in Utah Jail

June 6, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
From: SolitaryWatch

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that a young prisoner who apparently suffered from serious mental illness died of starvation and dehydration after spending four months in the Salt Lake County Jail, much of them in solitary confinement. Carlos Umana, 20, weighed at 180 pounds when he entered the jail in October 2010; when he died on February 27, he weighed just 77 pounds. Tests showed that none of his prescribed psychiatric drugs were in his system at the time of his death.

As a teenager, Umana was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to the Tribune, his mother, Tammy Martinez, said that Umana had ”stopped taking his medication in the fall. ’Then he started hearing voices and thinking people was poisoning him,’ Martinez said. Umana was so concerned about people poisoning him, she said, that he started preparing all his own food.”

On October 26, Umana stabbed his mother’s boyfriend, who was preparing a meal in her kitchen; he later told the police that he believed the man was going to kill him. He was charged him with first-degree felony attempted murder and held in the county jail. The Tribune describes what happened next:

Read the rest here.

Prison advocates dispute findings in inmate death

By Abigail Curtis
Bangor Daily News

WARREN, Maine — After a months-long investigation, the Maine Attorney General’s Office has determined the death of prisoner Victor Valdez, 52, at Maine State Prison last November was not a homicide.
But Judy Garvey, a spokeswoman for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said Thursday that she and other members dispute the office’s conclusion and will demand further investigation into Valdez’s death.
“We just want transparency,” she said. “We’d like to know what was in the investigation. Just because someone’s incarcerated and dies doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t know what has taken place. We should want that in Maine. There shouldn’t be anything we would want to hide.”

Valdez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was serving a four-year sentence for assault, apparently died in a medical unit at the prison after suffering what other prisoners described as systematic abuse by guards, according to Garvey.

He also had kidney disease and required dialysis treatments three days a week.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said Thursday the investigation found no evidence to suggest Valdez was the victim of foul play.

“Mr. Valdez had an extensive medical history and Mr. Valdez’s death was a natural death brought on by serious medical conditions from which he suffered,” Stokes said in a brief statement.

The incident that Garvey believes led to Valdez’s death occurred on Nov. 19, 2009, and took place in the prison dayroom. According to letters she received from other prisoners who were witnesses, Valdez had been heating a microwave dinner and walking around when there was an “off-hook,” or temporary lockdown.
Prisoners wrote the coalition that a guard told Valdez to go to his cell, but the Spanish-speaking man may not have heard it, Garvey said.

“He wasn’t trying to stand up to the guards. He was very afraid of them,” she said. “They did grab him, and a couple of guards were on either side of him, dragging him along, his little body dragging between them.”
Prisoners wrote the coalition after the incident that Valdez’s dialysis tubes were ripped out, that there was blood “all around,” that he had been taken to solitary confinement and that he needed urgent help. They also said guards used pepper spray on Valdez and that he couldn’t breathe.

Garvey also complained Thursday that an autopsy had not been conducted because the body was cremated shortly after Valdez’s death. Corrections officials reported that cremation was the least expensive option available to the family.

Denise Lord, assistant commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said Thursday evening that the department turned over its information on Valdez’s death to the Attorney General’s Office because corrections officials were looking for an independent review of the circumstances surrounding his death.
“The reason that they conducted this review was to respond to the concerns that were raised by a number of people, including the prisoner advocacy coalition,” she said. “We’ve been eager for them to finalize their review, because we wanted to resolve the controversy. I just have to accept that they did a thorough job and that their conclusion is well-founded.”

Lord said Valdez died of medical causes in the hospital, but that she is unable to release specifics about the death because that information is confidential.

She said she understands the frustration of Garvey and others.

“I know people ask for transparency and when they don’t get the information they want, they think it’s being withheld for questionable reasons,” she said. “I understand that when you have a concern and you believe you’re going up against an organization that appears to be unforthcoming – those are the perceptions – that you believe it’s being withheld for nefarious reasons. But really, it’s the law.”

Prisoners in contact with Garvey and the coalition have written that they are glad the Attorney General’s Office had taken their concerns seriously enough to launch an investigation, Garvey said.

“Their human rights were considered enough that the state police went in there apparently three to four times, interviewing different witnesses,” Garvey said. “It’s highly suspicious. This guy wasn’t dying a week before.”
Other prisoners liked Valdez, whom they described as frail and “elderly,” perhaps because he was hard of hearing, was stooped-over and received dialysis, she said.

“He wasn’t really causing trouble to anyone in there. He was kind of one of the quiet guys,” Garvey said. “They took him somewhere to die, and that’s how he spent his last days. He didn’t deserve that.”