Seeking Justice for the Inmate Burned Alive at Florida Prison

Jun 30, 2014 at 8:06 AM ET

On the night of June 23, 2012, 50-year-old Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Florida’s Dade Correctional Institution, was allegedly taken from his cell and locked in a closet-size shower. Guards then turned up the water to 180 degrees and walked away. Two hours later, he was dead; large swathes of skin had peeled from his body because of the intense heat. When he was finally taken to the infirmary, his internal temperature was so high that it couldn’t be measured by a thermometer.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, fellow prisoner Mark Joiner—who had heard screams during the night—says the showers are a routine form of punishment, and that Rainey, who was serving two years for drug possession, was taken there for defecating in his cell. “They were mocking him,” Joiner said. “He was crying, ‘Please stop, please stop.’ And they just said, ‘Enjoy your shower,’ and left.”

The Department of Corrections’ inspector general opened an inquiry into the brutal death, but it was closed four months later without action. Joiner then began writing letters to government officials detailing the incident and asking for help.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, along with other human rights organizations including Amnesty International, has taken up the case and is calling for a federal investigation. In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Howard L. Simon, the executive director of the ACLU, accuses both Florida corrections officials and the Miami-Dade Police Department of deliberately stalling the investigation. “The Miami-Dade Police conducted no interviews, failing even to interview the nurse on duty at DCI that evening who examined Rainey’s body,” he writes. “Key evidence, including the audio tape of the 911 call, was not preserved, which might have shed light on why there was a 20-minute delay in calling paramedics to the prison when Rainey’s body was finally discovered.”

The case has exposed a string of violations at the facility. Three former psychiatric unit employees have come forward to verify Joiner’s story and flag other inhumane practices, including frequent physical and sexual abuse, and guards forcing black and white prisoners to fight one another for entertainment. “[Guards] taunted, tormented, abused, beat and tortured chronically mentally ill inmates on a regular basis,” said psychotherapist George Mallinckrodt, who worked at the prison between 2008 and 2011.

Such human rights abuses seem to be endemic to the Florida prison system. There are currently six other suspicious deaths attracting attention, including the case of 27-year-old Randall Jordan-Aparo, who corrections staff reportedly gassed to death in 2010. Four Franklin Correctional Institution officers were suspended as a result but, to date, no criminal charges have been filed.