Friday, April 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Accountability needed on prison deaths

Fifteen years after the brutal death of inmate Frank Valdes at the hands of guards, Florida's prison system apparently still has inmates dying after altercations with staff. A federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed in Tallahassee this week casts a whole new light on such violence behind bars — and the real possibility that at least in some cases the Department of Corrections is more interested in covering it up than rooting it out. Corrections Secretary Michael Crews last month announced new protocols for investigating serious inmate injuries and unattended deaths. But he also should commit to re-examine past cases where scrutiny clearly went wanting and the truth is unknown.

On Wednesday came reports of a third inmate who died in recent years after altercations with corrections officers. Unlike other cases detailed in recent months by the Miami Herald, officers involved in the 2012 altercation with inmate Frank Smith, 44, at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford have been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an investigation that now stands at 21 months. But that wasn't the case in the horrific and still unaccounted-for 2012 death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institute in Homestead. Rainey, 50, died after being left in a scalding shower by guards for almost two hours, burning him so badly that chunks of skin were left behind in the shower.

DOC's inspector general Jeffrey Beasley closed the initial investigation after two weeks, only to reopen it last month after the Herald's reports. The publicity also prompted Crews to announce that investigations into serious inmate injuries and unattended deaths will be handled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But the new policy still doesn't account for potential past crimes that need investigating, including those detailed in a new federal whistle-blower suit.

The suit's plaintiffs, four corrections department investigators, allege that in recent months they have been retaliated against for speaking out about criminal activity they have discovered behind bars. Of particular note is that three plaintiffs allege the department failed in 2010 to properly investigate the death of Randall Jordan-Aparo, 27, at Franklin Correctional Institute in Carrabelle — and then tried to keep them from looking into the incident when they stumbled upon it amid other inquiries at Franklin last year.

Veteran DOC investigator Aubrey P. Land, in a transcript attached to the suit, claimed Jordan-Aparo was placed in solitary confinement after begging to be sent to the hospital for a worsening medical condition only to die after being repeatedly gassed by corrections officers. Yet the followup investigation made no mention of the use of chemical agents or a pre-existing medical condition, Land said.

"There is documented proof that this kid is sick. And they gas him, and they gas him, and they gas him. I've done this for 30 years. My skin doesn't crawl very often. They killed that damn kid," Land said.

The cascade of revelations prompted Jim McDonough, the retired Army colonel who led the prison system under Gov. Jeb Bush, to tell the Herald this week, "I am revolted by what I am hearing, just as I am by what I am not hearing … the lack of a sense of outrage from departmental officials, or for that matter, other officials."

Prison work by its nature is difficult and dangerous, and the revolving leadership of Florida's prison system certainly has not helped to create a sense of shared responsibility in recent years. But none of that obviates the state's responsibility to safely house inmates and investigate thoroughly when they are harmed. The state prison system appears to lack accountability and openness, and it must be held to account.

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Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

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Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

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Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

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The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18