Four Florida corrections officers who reportedly locked a mentally disabled inmate in a scalding shower for two hours will not be charged in his death.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said its lengthy probe found no basis for criminal charges and characterized the 2012 death of inmate Darren Rainey, 50, as an accident.
“The evidence does not show that [the inmate’s] well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff,” reads the 101-page report authored by Assistant State Attorneys Kathleen Hoague and Johnette Hardiman. The document was released late Friday.
Rainey, who had schizophrenia, was just months into a two-year prison sentence for cocaine possession at Dade Correctional Institution on June 23, 2012, when authorities say he defecated in his cell and smeared feces on himself. Guards locked him in a shower stall and turned on the water, which The Washington Post described as “scalding hot, possibly as high as 180 degrees.”
Roughly two hours later, Rainey was found unresponsive. A nurse told a 911 operator Rainey’s body “appeared to be burned,” according to the report, and witnesses said his skin appeared to be slipping off his body.
Inmate Harold Hempstead, who is incarcerated for burglary and armed robbery, told investigators Rainey appeared to be in distress earlier, and was heard yelling, “I’m sorry,” “I won’t do it anymore,” and “I can’t take it no more,” according to the report. The investigators said they found the inmate’s account “inherently unreliable and therefore not credible.”
Inmate Gary Brown, who is serving life for murder, said he saw Rainey’s body after it was removed from the shower and it looked like a “boiled lobster,” according to the report. Several other witnesses described steam coming out of the shower and seeing Rainey’s skin appearing red or peeling. The investigators downplayed the descriptions, attributing Rainey’s appearance to friction or pressure from medical staff’s attempts to revive him.
Authorities identified the corrections officers involved in the probe as Ronald Clarke, John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson and Edwina Williams.
The Miami Herald reported the shower where Rainey died was used by guards as a tool to punish inmates – a claim also made by several inmates interviewed by the investigators. The newspaper said guards had a penchant for starving inmates and forcing them to fight.
The New Yorker, citing interviews with witnesses, reported the shower water temperature at the time of Rainey’s death was “hot enough to brew a cup of tea.” Two days after he died, prison officials using a meat thermometer gauged the water temperature at 160 degrees, which The Washington Post said exceeds the state limit by 40 degrees.
In a 2016 interview with The New Yorker, Harriet Krzykowski, a former counsellor at the correctional institution, said water from the faucet was so hot that she used it to make noodles.
The state attorney’s investigation, however, found no reliable evidence of the water temperature when Rainey was locked inside the shower.
Dr. Emma Lew, a Miami-Dade deputy medical examiner who declared Rainey’s death an accident, said the autopsy showed no evidence temperatures in the shower were “excessively high.” Rainey, she said, sustained “no burn injuries.” She listed the cause of death as “schizophrenia, atherosclerotic heart disease and confinement inside the shower room.”
“The most likely mechanism of Mr. Rainey’s sudden death was a cardiac arrhythmia associated with his underlying atherosclerotic heart disease ... it is reasonable that these factors in combination initiated a chain of events that culminated in Rainey’s death.”
An attorney for the family, Milton Grimes of Los Angeles, told The Associated Press the family is “disappointed and heartbroken” that the investigation is closed.
“This is not justice for Darren, for his family, nor for the mentally ill who have been subject to similar abuse and mistreatment,” he told the AP.
Rainey’s family last year filed a federal lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections. The case is pending.
The assistant state attorneys who authored the report said there’s no evidence Rainey was abused or mistreated. They found the actions of the corrections officers appropriate.
“Placing an inmate who has defecated upon himself in a shower to decontaminate himself is not conduct that is criminally reckless,” they wrote. “There was no evidence of any intent to harm Rainey.”