No Charges For Guards In Scalding Shower Death Of Mentally Ill Prisoner

After being left in a scalding hot shower for nearly two hours, the skin was peeling off the dead prisoner's body. 

By Benjamin H. Smith

After a contested two-year investigation, prosecutors in Florida say no crimes were committed in the death of a mentally ill prisoner who was left for nearly two hours in a hot shower. 50-year-old prisoner Darren Rainey, a diagnosed schizophrenic, died in the shower at the Dade Correctional Institution on June 23, 2012. Prisoners claim the shower, which was controlled by prison guards in an adjacent room, was often used to punish inmates with alternately scalding hot or freezing cold water.

But a 101-page report issued Friday by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle says Rainey’s death was the result of the result of complications from his mental illness, a heart condition and “confinement in a shower,” according to The Miami Herald.

Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession when he was taken to the shower after smearing feces on himself and around his cell in the mental health unit of the prison. According to the guards, he refused to wash, so he was left unattended until he did so. Fellow inmates claim they heard him screaming in pain and kicking the door, trying to get out. When guards went in to remove him after nearly two hours  they found him unresponsive, with no pulse and not breathing, according to The NY Daily News. The heat of the water was so great that Rainey’s skin was literally peeling off his body.

According to the Herald, two days after Rainey’s death, a prison captain measured the shower’s temperature at 160 degrees, 40 degrees over the state limit. The reading was dismissed, however, since no one could prove what the temperature was at the time of death. Medical examiner Emma Lew determined Rainey’s death to be caused by a combination of heart disease and schizophrenia – which can trigger extreme reactions in the nervous system, as well as confinement in the small shower space. Lew claimed Rainey’s body did not show burns or heat trauma of any kind, but another report written on the day of the autopsy refers to “visible trauma … throughout the decedent’s body.” Harriet Krzykowski, a former mental health counselor at the prison, told The Herald “A lot of evidence was tampered with because the people there who had an interest did not want it to come out.”

A proper investigation into Rainey’s death wasn’t launched until two years after his death. Up to six inmates described the widespread abuse of mentally ill prisoners at Dade Correctional Institution, including allegations specific to Rainey. However, authorities determined their testimony to be unreliable. According to the report, the guards who put Rainey into the shower did not act with premeditation, malice, recklessness, ill-will, hatred or evil intent.

Through their attorney Milton Grimes, Rainey’s family said they were “disappointed and heartbroken” no charges will be brought. They think the report’s release late Friday was meant to diminish its exposure and impact. “We are appalled that the state attorney did not look deeper into this case and see the criminality of the people who were involved,” said Grimes, adding, “This is not justice for Darren, for his family, nor for the mentally ill who have been subject to similar abuse and mistreatment.” The family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections, and the U.S. Department of Justice continues to investigate possible civil rights abuses in the Florida prison system.

[Photo: Florida Dept. of Corrections]

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