Prisoner: I cleaned up skin of inmate scalded in shower; human rights group call for federal investigation

By JULIE K. BROWN Published June 25, 2014

Mark Joiner was roused from his cell earlier than usual on June 24, 2012.

He was handed a bottle of Clorox and was told it was clean-up time.

Joiner was used to cleaning up cells in Dade Correctional Institution’s psychiatric ward, and many of them were frequently brimming with feces and urine, insect-infested food and other filth.

Joiner thought he pretty much had seen it all, from guards nearly starving prisoners to death, to taunting and beating them unconscious while handcuffed for sport. He recalls one inmate was paid a pack of cigarettes to attack one sick inmate whose only offense was to ask if their mail could be delivered before bedtime.

But Joiner, a 46-year-old convicted killer, saw something that morning that shook even him to his core.

On the floor of a small shower stall he was ordered to clean, he saw a single blue canvas shoe and what he later realized was large chunks of human skin.

The skin belonged to Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally-ill prisoner whom the guards had handcuffed and locked in the cell the night before. Witnesses and DOC reports indicate Rainey was left in the scalding hot water for hours, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell.

Joiner, in an interview with the Miami Herald on Tuesday at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City, said he could hear Rainey screaming as hot steam filled the unit that night. He also heard the guards taunting Rainey, saying “How do you like your shower?’’

But the officers, many of them over six-feet tall and over 250 pounds, had done it before, Joiner said. The shower was just one tool the corrections officers used to torment prisoners in the ward, known as the transitional care unit.

A Herald investigation, first published in May, showed through public records and interviews by witnesses, including a nurse on duty at the time, that Rainey’s death was never properly investigated by the Department of Corrections or Miami-Dade police. Evidence also suggests that the Department of Corrections might have tried to cover up the incident.

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Amnesty International, the Florida Council of Churches and a host of other human rights organizations wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging the justice department to intervene.

“Darren Rainey’s death is one of just seven Florida prison deaths under scrutiny,” said the letter, signed by the heads of all the organizations, including Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

“Particularly because Florida Corrections officials have gone to such lengths to avoid an investigation that could hold someone accountable for his death, we urge the U.S. Department of Justice to explore the need for an investigation.”

The FBI and Justice Department are already investigating another Florida inmate death, at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. That inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, 27, died after being repeatedly gassed by correctional officers. Four corrections officers remain suspended in connection with the incident, but so far, no criminal charges have been brought. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted that probe, but it’s not clear why it, too, has taken so long to come to a close.

Joiner’s interview with the Herald came after the news organization sent him at least five letters. He said he received just one of them, which was sent by the Herald’s law firm.

He said he had been writing to DOC’s inspector general in an effort to bring Rainey’s death to justice since he was transferred out of DCI in February 2013. He also wrote to FDLE and a local congresswoman in the Jacksonville area describing what he called some of the “atrocities” he had witnessed while working as an orderly in the Florida City prison’s psych ward.

On Tuesday, in a small room at Columbia, with one corrections officer present, he said he saw first-hand how the prison’s staff routinely abused inmates and covered it up through a pattern of intimidation, threats and violence.

He recalled seeing a new inmate brought into DCI one night who was given the standard rundown by one corrections officer: “We kill guys here and get away with it, so you better ask around.”

It is not the first time an inmate has said officers used that threat. Lawsuits and public records of grievances filed by inmates, and reviewed by the newspaper, have also said that guards at the prison boasted of being able to kill inmates.

Joiner remembered and said he also later made a written record of what he saw and heard the night Rainey died.

He had a view of some of what happened and was ordered to clean up the shower the following morning. He said he placed all the skin he found in Rainey’s shoe.

“I heard them lock the shower door, and they were mocking him,” Joiner said, as the guards turned on their retrofitted shower full blast and steam began to fill the ward.

“He was crying, please stop, please stop,” Joiner said. And they just said “Enjoy your shower, and left.”

Joiner went to sleep, not knowing that it would be the last time he would see or hear Rainey alive. Witnesses would later say that after two hours, at temperatures of 180 degrees, Rainey collapsed, with his skin peeling from his body. Rainey, who was serving a two-year term for possession of drugs, was carried to the prison’s infirmary where a nurse later said his body temperature was so high it couldn’t be measured with a thermometer.

Miami-Dade police were called; the state Department of Corrections’ Inspector General Jeffery Beasley opened, then closed the case in 2012. Then, after the Herald began investigating the case, Beasley announced last week that he had reopened the investigation. DOC Secretary Michael Crews also announced several changes aimed at improving inmate and staff safety, but has not spoken about the death — or any of the suspicious deaths under probe throughout the state.

Late Wednesday, the Department of Corrections issued a statement:

“The Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) believes strongly that our operations and actions should be transparent, accountable and timely. We are conducting and updating, where necessary, processes and policies,’’ according to the statement, issued by Jessica Cary, director of communications. “Specific to the ongoing investigation into the death of an inmate at Dade Correctional Institution, DOC continues to assist the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD) to help them quickly bring the investigation to a close. … The Department will take appropriate action immediately should there be any findings from the MDPD’s investigation.”

DCI Warden Jerry Cummings has not commented publicly. But in a written statement last week he said the prison system has no tolerance for inmate abuse and has “a strong track record of taking immediate, decisive action” when law enforcement provides them with evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

But the evidence in Rainey’s case wasn’t gathered until almost two years later; even the 911 recording of the call wasn’t saved by Miami-Dade police. Detectives didn’t interview another inmate who had written repeated letters to Beasley’s office until after the Herald began asking questions about the case in May.

And Miami-Dade police detectives finally interviewed Joiner last week, even though one of his letters was in DOC’s file since February 2013. To date, DOC’s investigators have never interviewed Joiner.

Joiner said based on the questions he was asked, it’s clear detectives still do not yet have a grasp of how the psych ward was set up.

Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Bruce Hyma has not released the autopsy because, he said, he needs the results of the police investigation in order to “interpret” his findings.

Joiner said even though he still fears retribution for coming forward, he is so disgusted by the depravity he witnessed.

“Look, I’m in prison for killing somebody, and I will never justify what I did,” Joiner said. “But nobody, nobody deserves to die like that. The thing that really got me was the cruelty of it and to hear them bragging about it.”

Joiner said although he doesn’t believe the officers planned to kill Rainey, they knew what they were doing, just by the way they controlled the shower.

“There was no shower more out of the way that they could have brought him to,” Joiner said.

He explained that that shower had been specially “rigged” to be controlled from a mop closet, with a hose connected from the water supply directly into a makeshift pipe that fed the shower.

The controls inside that shower did and could be activated properly from the inside, Joiner said. He knew that because the controls worked for him the next morning. That means the guards purposefully used the manual controls so they could turn it up as hot as they could, he said.

Another inmate, identified by Joiner as Josh Allen, had told him shortly before Rainey’s death that he, too, had been placed in the shower.

“He told me he could hardly breathe,” Joiner said. The inmate then proceeded to describe how the guards laughed and joked, saying “Is it hot enough for you?”

In May, another inmate who worked as an orderly in the unit, Harold Hempstead, also told the Herald about Rainey’s ordeal — as well as other inmates who had been placed in the shower. The Herald has written to all the inmates identified by Hempstead, but received only one phone call, from a chaplain at a prison where one of the inmates, Daniel Medberry, is now housed. When a reporter told the chaplain why the Herald wanted to talk to Medberry, the chaplain replied “I can’t help you,” and hung up.

“Josh was so traumatized by what happened he refused to shower for a long time,’’ Joiner said. “He had paranoia, he was always worried about getting AIDS.”

Joiner speculated that Allen was punished because he got angry with the officers who kept taunting him about his AIDS test, telling him it was complete, but never giving him the results.

He said the medical staff, which worked for prison health management company Corizon at the time, kept their mouths shut. They, too, were also afraid, he said.

A psychotherapist in the unit who had complained about the treatment of mentally ill patients had recently been fired before Rainey’s death, Joiner said, and the medical staff worried that they would lose their jobs if they talked.

In an interview with the Herald last month, the fired psychotherapist, George Mallinckrodt, reported seeing at least one inmate handcuffed and helpless, kicked repeatedly by a group of guards in an area not covered by the ward’s video surveillance cameras. Last week, he said he was interviewed by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office about Rainey, but wasn’t hopeful that criminal charges are forthcoming.

Corizon officials told the Herald that Mallinckrodt was fired for “falsifying his time cards.”

But Joiner said the medical staff told him that Mallinckrodt was “set up.” Joiner said he was present when a prison official told him and staff members to not talk about what happened to Rainey.

The video surveillance recording “malfunctioned,” during the Rainey probe, according to the inspector general report. It’s not clear whether the agency has obtained a duplicate — or whether the incident was ever recorded.

Joiner said it was clear that Corizon staffers and corrections officers were very nervous after the incident, but they soon relaxed when it appeared, to them, that no one was doing anything about it.

After picking up all the pieces of skin from the shower that morning, Joiner said a corrections officer directed him to a nearby stairway, where he pointed out more chunks of skin hanging from the metal steps.

The guard asked, “Is that the best you can do?”

Joiner continued to pick up the skin.

“I just kept shoving it in the shoe,” he said. “And then I asked, ‘What do you want me to do with it?’ And he said just throw it in the trash. So I did.”