Lawsuit accuses Florida correctional officials of abuse

This photograph shows a man's pair of hands gripping prison cell bars.
News from Florida

Disability Rights Florida sued the Florida Department of Corrections in federal court on September 9, accusing the agency of systematically abusing inmates with mental illnesses at the Dade Correctional Institution, a facility meant to provide inmates with specialty psychiatric and psychological care.

“The physical abuse and brutality by FDOC correctional officers against inmates with mental illness housed on the inpatient unit at Dade CI was imposed maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm and was unrelated to any good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit comes amid a series of investigations by the Miami Herald into multiple mysterious deaths at the facility in the previous three years.

In May, the Herald published a series of articles about Darren Rainey, a 50-year old, black, inmate with mental illness serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession. On June 23, 2013, Rainey allegedly defecated in his cell and refused to clean it up.

Correctional officers responded by escorting and placing Rainey in a shower stall, with water temperatures raised to “scalding hot levels,” according to the lawsuit. The officers returned to find Rainey dead an hour and a half later, with burns on 90 percent of his body. The FDOC did not investigate the death, until the Herald published the stories.

This “shower treatment” is allegedly used on a regular basis in retaliation for behaviors resulting from mental illnesses. In addition, officers also regularly subject inmates to food deprivation and physical and verbal harassment, according to the lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The lawsuit accuses the FDOC of violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as discriminating against people with disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It seeks an injunction to halt the alleged abuses and to compel the FDOC to investigate the incident, take steps to train and supervise officers at the facility, and to allow for periodic independent oversight.

“The purpose of the Florida Department of Corrections’ inpatient mental health units is to provide treatment for mentally ill inmates, not to punish them. Secretary Crews’ response to the Dade Correctional Institution deaths and abuses fails to get to the heart of the matter – the need for the vulnerable and mentally ill people isolated in these units to be protected from abuse.” said Peter Sleasman of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, which along with Holland & Knight is assisting Disability Rights Florida in the lawsuit, in a news release.

Disability Rights Florida, and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of DisAbility Rights Galaxy, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.

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