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Darren Rainey: October 11 Meeting with State Attorney

Oct 16, 2016 | by Steven Wetstein

 

 

Summary of Meeting with State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle on October 11, 2016 to Discuss the Progress of the Investigation of the Death of Darren Rainey on June 23, 2012

 

Attending: Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida; Shirley Johnson, President of the Miami-Dade NAACP; Amy McClellan, Marilyn Lieberman, George Mallinckrodt and Steven Wetstein of Stop Prison Abuse Now; and, from State Attorney’s office (SAO): Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Howard Rosen, Kathleen Hoague, Johnette Hardimon and Ed Griffin. The meeting was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. and ran from about 3:30 to 4:20.

 

State Attorney Rundle began by saying that no conclusions had yet been reached in their inquiry. She said that her office has only had all the materials it needs, such as information from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s office, and the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) since April of this year. Yet it is reported that she received the MDPD report in May 2015, and the M.E.’s report in January 2016. They did note that this report will consist of public documents, and therefore be available to us, with perhaps some exceptions. They did not give a timetable as to when their final judgment will be issued.

As at our last meeting, on September 30, 2014, she said that she would not get into specific facts of the case with us while the investigation is ongoing. She and the others from her office said that MDPD Detective Will Sanchez was at the autopsy conducted by Dr. Emma Lew. After this, tissues were sent to various labs for analysis. When the Herald started printing material on this case, the M.E. and MDPD reopened their investigations and the MDPD gave new information to the M.E., whose final determination of a cause of death is based on both autopsy results and interviews with witnesses. Both the physical causes of death and the manner of death must be determined.

She noted that because there was no suspicion of foul play on the part of the MDPD on the day of Mr. Rainey’s death, they did not contact her office, as they would have otherwise. At our last meeting, she said, per Steven Wetstein’s notes, that there were missteps in the case, such as her not being notified. Her office now disputes that.

Despite the initial report from the M.E.’s office saying, “Visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent’s body,” and that both Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Dade Correctional Institution personnel said on the day of Mr. Rainey’s death that he was burned, the State Attorney considers these matters to be open, pending a final report. The initial M.E.’s report is done, they say, by an investigator and not a doctor. They note that language in the initial report’s footer says that such information is not verified, and subject to change. As at the first meeting, their position is that all such discrepancies will be explained in their final report.

It was Steven Wetstein’s understanding at the first meeting that no one from the M.E.’s office went to DCI when Mr. Rainey died. Ms. Hoague now says that an investigator from that office, though not a physician, did go, and interviewed Fire Rescue and prison personnel. Ms. Hoague said roughly 80 interviews have been done by the SAO; Ms. Rundle said over 100.

For all in-custody deaths, a committee of SAO senior staff members makes a determination. There are 26 people in the office from whom each committee is drawn.

Ms. Rundle noted that her office has video(s) from the prison that are being looked at in this case. Not all of the videotape may be made available when their report is issued, as it was said that some might show things that would compromise prison security if made public.  George Mallinckrodt briefly raised the issue of the security camera that allegedly malfunctioned just when Mr. Rainey was taken to the shower where he died.

Steven Wetstein raised the issue of the assertion of Mr. Harold Hempstead (an inmate orderly on Mr. Rainey’s unit when he died) that he sent a complaint about Mr. Rainey’s death to the SAO in 2013 (despite Ms. Rundle’s assertion at our last meeting that she only learned of the case when the Herald articles began in 2014) and that the office said he should submit it to Pinellas County, where he was convicted. She says now that she doesn’t recall when she first learned of the case. She asked Ms. Hoague about this, but Ms. Hoague didn’t recall if they received material from Mr. Hempstead. Rundle said that if he did send a complaint it will be in the searchable public record when the case concludes.

The SAO said that they have shared all available information on this case with the U.S. Attorney’s office, but that they are conducting separate investigations, so as to form independent views of the matter.

Steven Wetstein asked what measures may have been taken to reform the procedures for investigating in-custody deaths. Ms. Rundle noted that her office requested that the FDLE now handle such investigations in regard to cases occurring in Miami-Dade County which previously would have been handled by the MDPD or Miami Police Department, and that a memorandum of understanding has been signed on this issue. It does not cover all police departments in Miami-Dade, however.

Also during the meeting, George Mallinckrodt remarked that the system is rigged against prisoners in matters such as Mr. Rainey’s death, which Ms. Rundle denied.  Marilyn Lieberman forcefully said that the investigation had taken too long, to which Mr. Rundle replied that other investigations, such as one regarding shootings that occurred on Miami Beach on Memorial Day weekend in 2011, had taken years to complete, but that the most important thing was to get them right.

Howard Simon noted that investigation involved at least five shootings and does not appear to be as complex a matter as the cause and the manner of death of Darren Rainey.  Ms. Rundle said that was a fair observation, and when asked by Mr. Simon when the Rainey investigation would be completed and made public, she indicated that she hoped we would be able to see the full report (or the Close Out Memo, which many of us thought more likely) later this fall.

Appended here is a letter that we gave to Ms. Rundle highlighting our concerns.

 

=====================================================================

 

October 11, 2016

 

Ms. Katherine Fernandez Rundle

Miami-Dade State Attorney

1350 NW 12 Avenue

Miami, FL 33136

 

Dear State Attorney Rundle:

 

As members of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Stop Prison Abuse Now (SPAN), Amnesty International-USA and The Key Clubhouse of Miami, we thank you for once again taking the time to meet with us. But, also once again, we must express our dismay that justice has not yet been done in the brutal death of Mr. Darren Rainey on June 23, 2012. It is thirteen months since we last met, and were told that you expected to conclude the case by the end 2012. Even more importantly, it is 52 months since Mr. Rainey’s death, and that no one has been held accountable for his death.

 

As before, we are seeking answers to questions that call out urgently for resolution:

 

When will a decision be reached in this case? A letter to SPAN in late 2014 said that the Miami office of the FBI was investigating this case. It has been reliably reported that you received the Miami-Dade Police Department’s (MDPD) final report in May of last year, and the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s report in January of this year. Why then, have you not yet made a decision on this case, and when can we reasonably expect that to happen?

 

How can reliable reports of Mr. Rainey’s death be squared with the reported conclusions of the Medical Examiner that Mr. Rainey’s death was accidental, that we was not burned (even though skin was coming off his body), that he was not put into a shower (that had clearly been rigged) with ill intent, and that it can’t conclude that its water was too hot? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/5098.pdf) says that most people will suffer a third-degree burn if exposed to water of 150 degrees for two seconds, and recommends that people set their water heaters to no more than 120 degrees. It is reported that the shower in question was set at over 180 degrees, and Mr. Rainey was in the shower for at least one-and-a-half hours. If the shower was not intended as a device of punishment (and really of torture) why was it set to be controlled from a janitorial closet, unlike all other showers, and how could he possibly have been left in it for so long? It is not credible that prisoners are allotted so much time for personal showers. The medical examiner says that upon his death, Mr. Rainey had a temperature of 102 degrees, while another report put it at 104.9. Even the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report of June 24, 2012 says “Visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent’s body”.

 

Mr. Harold Hempstead, without whose courage the public might not yet even know of Mr. Rainey’s death, has said that at least four other prisoners were punished in this shower: Daniel Geiger, William Wallace, Michael Alfonso and Halden Casey. Have they been interviewed concerning Mr. Rainey, and are their cases under investigation? Has Mark Joiner, who cleaned bits of flesh from the shower and was told to throw them away, been interviewed?

 

Is there yet an answer to the question of the video system that suddenly, it is alleged, malfunctioned on the night of Mr. Rainey’s death, just when he was going to be taken to the shower? Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) then-Inspector Jeffery Beasley’s report in August 2012 said that Windows Media Player malfunctioned and damaged a disc. It is impossible not to be skeptical about this.

 

Why was there, according to a Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) document, a 26 minute gap between Mr. Rainey’s death and a call to 911?

 

When did you first learn of Mr. Rainey’s death? With respect, we must note that you told us in September 2014 that you learned of it when The Miami Herald starting printing articles on it earlier that year, but Mr. Hempstead has since said that he sent you a report of it in 2013 (he, of course, made his initial complaint to the FDC in February 2013) and that you rejected it, saying he should take it to Pinellas County, where he was convicted. How can this discrepancy be explained? In fact, an FDC document contains, under a heading of “Checklist”, various authorities to, apparently, contact regarding an inmate death and includes the State Attorney of the county the death occurred in. Was this notification carried out?

 

What measures have been instituted to make sure other inmate deaths will not be mishandled? As you have told us, Mr. Rainey’s death was treated as a normal in-custody death (which we find wholly unjustifiable), meaning that you were not notified, and that the Medical Examiner didn’t send anyone to investigate the death at its scene.

 

Are there other inmate deaths at prisons in Miami-Dade that you are currently investigating? In this regard, we do thank you for asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate conditions at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, where there have been juvenile inmate deaths.

 

Have you asked the United States Department of Justice to investigate Mr. Rainey’s death, as we had appealed to you to do during our last meeting?

 

We want to stress, Ms. Rundle that we consider you and your staff to be among the guardians of the rule of law in a city that we love. We’re sure you would agree that justice must not just be achieved, but seen unequivocally to be so. The trust between our government and our people, on which we all depend is, rightly, under scrutiny throughout our country. We appeal to you to do all that is necessary to bring justice to the unforgiveable death of Darren Rainey, and make clear to our community that the deaths of prisoners will be treated with no less human concern that those of anyone else. Thank you so much for taking time today to hear our concerns.

 

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Steven Wetstein

Stop Prison Abuse Now and

Amnesty International USA

 

Howard Simon, Executive Director

American Civil Liberties Union of Florida

 

Shirley Johnson, President

NAACP of Miami-Dade

 

George Mallinckrodt

Stop Prison Abuse Now

 

Marilyn Lieberman

Stop Prison Abuse Now and

The Key Clubhouse of South Florida

 

Amy McClellan

Stop Prison Abuse Now and

The Key Clubhouse of South Florida