The Justice Department is investigating the death of a Florida inmate who allegedly burned and suffocated to death in a scalding hot shower chamber from which he could not escape, reported the Miami Herald.
Darren Rainey, 50, suffered from severe schizophrenia and was serving two years in a Miami Dade correctional facility for cocaine possession when, four months into his sentence, he was locked in a shower chamber and hosed down with 180-degree water as punishment for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, reports the Herald.
While inmates can generally avoid the stream of scalding water, the steam that fills the chamber is enough to make them suffocate. Prisoners told the Herald that Rainey’s cries for help from inside the chamber were met with ridicule from officers outside, who reportedly left him there for one and a half hours as they called out, “How do you like your shower?”
After Rainey collapsed and was taken away, officers ordered one prisoner to wipe the shower clean of the pieces of Rainey’s skin that had literally melted off of his body, inmate Mark Joiner told the Herald. Rainey suffered burns on over 90% of his body, according to a lawsuit filed by his family in November 2014, though officers reported his official cause of death as a heart attack.
The episode prompted an outcry from inmates who wrote letters of protest to Florida’s governor, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami Dade police, none of which were answered, according to the Herald.
Convicted burglar Harold Hempstead continued to keep journals of the prisoner abuse at Dade Correctional, however, which the Miami Herald collected and verified. Among the abuses Hemstead documented were sexual abuse, officers starving inmates — two of whom later died — and a consistent use of the “torture chamber” showers to punish prisoners.
40-year-old Dade Correctional inmate Richard Mair hanged himself in 2013, leaving a suicide note that detailed the enduring sexual and psychological abuse he had suffered at the hands of corrections officers. Mair’s claims were never investigated, even though he had sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, five days before he died imploring them to investigate the abuse.
A former counselor at Dade Correctional, Harriet Krzykowski, said that corrections officers regularly threatened to lock her in a room with violent inmates and no protection if she ever told anyone about the abuse, according to the Herald.
The warden and deputy warden of Dade Correctional were asked to leave following the Herald’s investigation, and the Department of Corrections has appointed a mental health professional to investigate claims of officer-on-inmate abuse, according to the Herald.
We have reached out to Florida’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, for comment and will update if we hear back.
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