POLITICS
08/04/2017 12:54 pm ET

Autopsy Photos Of Inmate Allegedly 'Boiled' To Death Raise Questions About State's Report

A medical examiner determined Darren Rainey was not burned while locked in a hot shower room in a Florida prison.

In June 2012, Florida inmate Darren Rainey died at Dade Correctional Institution inside of a makeshift shower that inmates allege had been modified by guards to punish those who were uncooperative. Rainey was locked in the shower for about two hours under what has been alleged to be scalding water. Rainey’s body looked like “a boiled lobster” when it was removed from the shower, inmates claimed.

But in March, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle issued a report that cleared guards of any wrongdoing in Rainey’s death. Rundle called Rainey’s death an accident resulting from a combination of his schizophrenia, heart disease and being confined in the shower room.

The report, which cited the findings of Miami-Dade medical examiner Dr. Emma Lew’s official autopsy on Rainey, also said there was no evidence that the shower was too hot, and that burns had not been found on Rainey’s body. 

Official documents reviewed by HuffPost earlier this year indicate that some information from police, the prison and emergency services was not included in the prosecutor’s final report, raising questions about the circumstances surrounding Rainey’s death as well as the veracity of Rundle’s report.

HuffPost has since obtained copies of 20 photographs that county officials took just hours after Rainey died. They were provided to HuffPost by a source close to the investigation who asked not to be identified out of fear of repercussions. Some of the autopsy photos also have been published and referenced in stories by The Miami Herald’s Julie Brown, who has followed the case for years.

The disturbing images show severe wounds on numerous sections of Rainey’s body. Entire swaths of skin ― and, in places, what appear to be multiple layers of skin ― are shown missing, bunched up at the edges of wounds or hanging loosely at the edges of wounds.

The photos show hot water burns, scald burns, and not decomposition. One doesn’t decompose like that in 24 hours under any circumstances. Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden

HuffPost shared the full set of photos with Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist known for his contributions to HBO’s “Autopsy” series and his work on many high-profile deaths, including the private autopsy conducted on Michael Brown. After reviewing Rainey’s autopsy and the photos, Baden said it didn’t make sense to rule the death “accidental” or say the wounds on Rainey’s skin were the product of natural decomposition processes.

Photos depict extensive damage to Rainey’s skin.

The autopsy photos were taken hours after Rainey was found dead on the shower floor. He had collapsed face up in a pool of water as hot water continued to flow into the room.

Three photos, which have been cropped slightly and published below, show the extent of the injuries to Rainey’s chest, back, arms and legs. Other photographs in the set show similar injuries to all four limbs, his buttocks and face. Some wounds are a deep red, with blood vessels clearly visible; others expose underlying tissue.

Rainey’s chest and back appear the most severely injured in the photographs. His chest wound exposes a dark red layer of tissue from his neck to mid-abdomen. White tissue is exposed on his entire upper and mid-back with some red splotches throughout the large exposed area.

Skin on Rainey’s left arm appears severely wounded, with deep red and white tissue exposed, as well as sections of blood vessels. Rainey had a tattoo on his upper left arm, but it is nearly indecipherable in the photos because several layers of skin appear to be missing. Rainey’s legs show injuries to his thighs, shins and calves.

Multiple skin wounds are visible on Rainey’s forehead, cheeks, ears, neck and nose. The deepest wound appears to be on the bridge of his nose, where white and red tissue is exposed.

Lew, the Miami-Dade medical examiner, described Rainey’s injuries as “skin slippage” in her autopsy report. She wrote that they were the result of normal post-mortem decomposition, “exposure to a warm, moist environment” and friction or pressure placed on his body during attempts to revive him or move his body. 

Baden told HuffPost the photos don’t line up with the official findings.

“The photos show hot water burns, scald burns, and not decomposition,” he said. “One doesn’t decompose like that in 24 hours under any circumstances.”

A rectal thermometer in another photo shows a reading, believed to have been taken about 12 hours after Rainey died, of about 94 degrees. That reading, Baden said, could indicate a higher than normal body temperature at the time of death.

“The fact that 12 hours later it’s 94 degrees would indicate that it was quite high at the time of the incident. It’s entirely consistent with his being in that hot water for a while,” Baden said.

Depending on the temperature of the environment the body is kept in ― a body cools more quickly in a colder environment and more slowly in a warmer one ― body temperature drops an average of 1 degree to 2 degrees every hour after a person dies, according to Baden. So if a person died in a 70-degree room, pathologists would expect the body temperature to drop about 15 degrees in 10 hours.

Baden said refrigeration units at medical examiner offices are generally kept around 38 degrees. It’s not clear if Rainey’s body was put into refrigeration in the medical examiner’s office before these photos were taken, but that would be a standard procedure. Refrigeration would have caused Rainey’s body temperature to “fall much more than that and much lower than 94 degrees,” Baden said.

“Those photographs are typical of hot water thermal injury to the skin and consistent with the circumstances in that shower room,” he said. “And they are not consistent with decomposition happening in a 24-hour period of time.”

Lew noted in the autopsy report that Rainey’s rectal temperature was at 94 degrees 12 hours after death. The report also says a nurse found he had a 102-degree temperature soon after he was found dead, which Lew wrote indicated that Rainey “had an elevated body temperature at the time of death.” But she didn’t conclude that the shower water caused Rainey’s higher body temperature because his temperature at the time he first entered the shower room is unknown.

Lew writes that a “psychotic episode which prompted him to smear feces on his body” cannot be ruled out as a possible cause for Rainey’s high temperature. (Prison guards say they took Rainey to the shower room because they discovered he had defecated in his cell and smeared feces on himself, his cell and bedsheets.)

In an earlier interview with HuffPost, Baden questioned the stated cause of death in the autopsy report, saying it “raises problems.”

“Number one, schizophrenia is a disease; it isn’t a cause of death. Schizophrenia is not a cause of sudden death,” Baden said. Secondly, Baden said the autopsy report indicates Rainey’s heart disease was “minimal” and that his “heart is not remarkable for a 50-year-old person.” Lastly, Baden said, the indication that confinement in the shower also contributed to his death “does not make sense.”

“What is being described is a natural death,” Baden said. “Even if it were schizophrenia and it was heart disease, why then is it an accident? Because of the confined space? No. The cause of death as indicated does not appear to me to be consistent with the autopsy findings.”

When asked about Baden’s criticisms of her findings, Lew didn’t disagree with his points.

“Dr. Baden is a well-known expert in forensic pathology,” Lew said. “Experts are frequently asked to provide their opinion and he has done so.”

Rainey was locked into a makeshift shower with water that allegedly reached 160 degrees.

A guard escorted Rainey to the shower room after finding the feces in his cell so that he could wash himself while his cell was being cleaned, according to prison guards. 

But the room where Rainey was ultimately found was not like the prison’s other showers. It didn’t have taps accessible to the bather; rather, the water taps were in an adjacent janitorial closet, from which a pipe carried hot and cold water. And the water discharged from a hole in the wall instead of spraying from a shower head. 

A photo of the janitor's closet adjacent to the shower where inmate Darren Rainey was found dead, showing the rigged-up tubin
Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office
A photo of the janitor's closet adjacent to the shower where inmate Darren Rainey was found dead, showing the rigged-up tubing that provided water to the shower.

An inmate in that stall had no control over the pressure, temperature or duration of the water. State officials said the shower was rigged this way so guards could force inmates to wash when they refused to bathe normally. 

But multiple inmates at the Dade Correctional Institution had a very different view of the makeshift shower. They claimed that it had been used for some time to punish uncooperative inmates, according to an internal investigation report by the Miami-Dade state attorney. There are also accounts from inmates and former prison staff saying the water temperature in the makeshift shower got excessively high.

Jerry Cummings, who was a Dade prison warden at the time, ordered Capt. Darlene Dixon, the environmental health and safety officer at the prison, to check the shower’s water temperature two days after Rainey’s death. (Cummings was fired two years later, and after another inmate died.)

In an interview with Miami-Dade Police Detective Wilbert Sanchez, the lead investigator on the case, Dixon recalled the first time she attempted to test the water temperature in the shower room: She said the water hit the wall and splashed “on her hand, and was hurting her because it was too hot” and that steam “appeared in the shower within a few minutes of turning on the hot water.”

Dixon also said she used a meat thermometer from the prison’s food services department to test the water temperature at the tap in the janitorial closet. Dixon reported that the water registered as 160 degrees ― 40 degrees higher than the maximum permitted temperature setting for hot water in the prison, the prosecutor’s report says.

Lew’s autopsy report concluded that claims that temperatures inside the shower room were “excessively high” were unsubstantiated. She dismissed reports that the water temperature was 160 degrees and said there was no evidence Rainey had actually suffered any burns to his body. Lew said people with schizophrenia can have an “impaired ability to compensate for heat stress” ― when coupled with a medication Rainey was taking to help with his mental illness, Lew said that could have contributed to him suffering from hyperthermia in the shower and been related to a “pre-disposition to sudden cardiac arrest.”

Most adults will suffer third-degree burns if exposed to water hotter than 150 degrees for even a few seconds. First-degree burns cause redness, second-degree burns create swelling and blistering and third-degree burns go through the skin to deeper tissues. Rainey was locked in the shower for about two hours.

A reference to the hot water in the janitorial closet also appears in a May 2016 New Yorker article about the experiences of Harriet Krzykowski, a former counselor at Dade Correctional Institution who says she faced retaliation from prison staff when she raised concerns about alleged inmate abuse in the facility. Krzykowski told the magazine that water from the faucet was so hot that she sometimes used it to cook ramen noodles. 

Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office

Some inmates said they could hear Rainey screaming in the shower for several minutes on the night he died. Harold Hempstead, who worked as an orderly in the mental ward, said he heard Rainey cry out from the shower ― yelling “I’m sorry,” “I won’t do it anymore” and “I can’t take it no more” ― until he “heard a fall,” according to the state attorney’s report.

Other inmates said that, as guards carried his body out of the shower, Rainey’s skin appeared red in some sections and to be peeling off his body. One inmate claimed Rainey looked like a “boiled lobster.”

State prosecutors ultimately decided the inmates’ allegations were not credible. They said Hempstead’s timeline of events did not match that of prison surveillance video from that night and that he couldn’t have seen some of the things he claimed to have seen. Prosecutors also suggested that other inmates’ allegations may have been influenced by conversations with Hempstead.

The prosecutors concluded that there was no evidence that the shower had ever been used as punishment and said it was neither “dangerous nor unsafe.”

HuffPost

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