10 COs on leave, one resigned, after Fla. inmate dies in prison van

Rep. Anna Eskamani called the death “horrifying” and said FDC’s statement didn’t provide enough details


By Ben Conarck
Miami Herald
        
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. — Ten corrections officers were placed on leave and one resigned after the mysterious, unannounced death of a Dade Correctional Institution inmate during a transfer to another facility.

The Florida Department of Corrections refused to say whether the prisoner’s injuries were sustained before being placed in the transfer vehicle, in which prisoners are typically shackled and restrained, or during the ride itself.

But he died 345 miles away from Dade Correctional, outside the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala.

For nearly five days, the department’s public information staff made no mention of the death or the related disciplinary actions. After the Miami Herald inquired Friday evening based on information from sources, the agency issued a press release Saturday morning titled “statement regarding inmate death.” In the release, the agency acknowledged that an unnamed prisoner at Dade Correctional had died “during a transfer,” but offered no details on how it happened or clues as to who was responsible.

“While initial details surrounding the death were not clear, after coordination with [the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,] FDC immediately placed 10 officers on administrative leave and one officer has resigned,” the release said.

Citing an active investigation, the FDC said that “the victim and staff member names cannot be released.” It was not immediately clear why the investigation would prevent releasing the name of the inmate who was died.

Later on Saturday, Molly Best, a spokesperson for the agency, said the inmate “was pronounced deceased while the transport van was stopped at Florida Women’s Reception Center.”

No explanation was given where the prisoner was being sent.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, told the Herald she spoke with an FDC aide who told her the name of the inmate was not being disclosed due to HIPAA, the federal law protecting health information that does not apply to people who are dead. A Department of Corrections spokesperson later told the Herald it was the FDLE’s decision not to release the name and referred the question to that agency.

The FDLE did not immediately explain its reason for not naming the victim on Saturday.

Eskamani called the death “horrifying” and said FDC’s statement didn’t provide enough details.

“As lawmakers, it’s our responsibility not just to maintain funding to [the Department of Corrections], but a quality of service to loved ones who want to be reunited with their families one day,” she said. “We need more information, but what we know now is that there are loved ones who will never see this person again, and that sits very heavy with me.”

The Florida Department of Corrections said its new secretary, Ricky Dixon, traveled to Dade CI to assess the situation, and that, “while the investigation is currently ongoing, Secretary Dixon and agency leadership have taken administrative action.”

“As Secretary, I will be unwavering in my support for staff who perform their jobs with respect and integrity, but I will also be unrelenting in disciplining staff who act outside of the ethical standards of our profession; they will be held accountable for their actions, up to, and including criminal prosecution.”

The department included in its press release that the warden for the facility had been replaced “shortly before the incident” and that “the new warden is conducting a holistic review of facility operations.”

Dade Correctional is year in, year out, one of the deadliest prisons in the state, although many are determined to be from natural causes and most don’t lead to staff sanctions or a visit from the secretary of the department, the largest in Florida government.

The Miami-Dade state prison is also notorious for the death of Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old schizophrenic inmate whose barbaric shower death resulted in sweeping reforms and a $4.5 million settlement.

Rainey’s death was all but ignored by authorities until 2014 — when the Miami Herald wrote about it as part of a three-year investigation into the abuse and suspicious deaths of inmates in the Florida prison system.

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©2022 Miami Herald.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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