Latandra Ellington had weathered some of Lowell Correctional Institution's harshest and most primitive realities, and was just seven months shy of freedom — and being reunited with her four young children.
But on Sept. 21, Ellington wrote a chilling letter to her aunt telling her she feared she wouldn't make it out alive. One of the officers at the prison — she identified him as "Sgt. Q" — had threatened to beat and kill her, she wrote.
"He was gone [sic] beat me to death and mess me like a dog,'' she wrote. "He was all in my face Sqt. Q then he grab his radio and said he was gone bust me in my head with it...''
Ten days later, on Oct. 1, Ellington, 36, was dead. Corrections officials said Ellington, who had been serving 22 months for grand theft, was in confinement — separated from the general population — at the time of her death because the agency had taken her family's concerns about the alleged threats "seriously.''
Still, with no answers about how the death happened, the family hired an attorney and paid for a private autopsy. The autopsy, their lawyer said Monday, showed that Ellington suffered blunt-force trauma to her abdomen consistent with being punched and kicked in the stomach.
On Monday, civil rights attorney Daryl Parks, whose firm represented the Trayvon Martin family and has now been hired by Ellington's relatives, urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate.
Parks, joined by Florida's NAACP, told Holder in a letter they were particularly concerned that evidence in the case "will be lost or destroyed'' and that local and state law enforcement have demonstrated they are unable to conduct an impartial investigation.
"It's not right that these four children would lose their mom,'' Parks said. "While the trail is very fresh, we believe a federal investigation is warranted."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that it was called to the scene of her death and is investigating.
"She was not sentenced to the death sentence and the Department of Corrections certainly owed her far greater protection,'' Parks said.
The Department of Corrections issued a statement saying "this is an ongoing investigation, and any additional details, including reports from the medical examiner, are confidential at this time."