Darren Rainey, an inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida, was serving a prison sentence for cocaine possession in June 2012, when guards took him out of his cell, forced him into a shower stall and locked the door.
From the outside, they turned the water on scalding hot, possibly as high as 180 degrees, then walked away. As the narrow room filled with steam, Rainey, a 50-year-old with schizophrenia, could be heard screaming, “I can’t take it anymore,” a fellow inmate would later say.
After nearly two hours, the guards went in to check on him. Rainey lay dead on his back in three inches of water. His skin had reddened and begun to peel off, flecks of it floating next to him, as the Miami Herald reported.
Rainey’s death prompted a sweeping investigation by the Miami Herald, which reported that Dade corrections officers had rigged the shower to punish inmates who misbehaved. The paper also reported that Dade guards would douse inmates with chemicals, starve them and force them to fight. A New Yorker story called Rainey’s treatment “torture.”
But a two-year probe of the incident by law enforcement officials has uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing.
On Friday, more than four years after Rainey died, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle released a 101-page report calling Rainey’s death an accident and clearing the four guards involved.
According to the report, nothing turned up in the investigation that met the requirements for filing criminal charges against Sgt. John Fan Fan, or officers Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke and Edwina Williams.
“The evidence fails to show that any correctional officer acted in reckless disregard of Rainey’s life,” prosecutors wrote in the report.
Rainey, the report said, died of a combination of factors, including complications from his schizophrenia, an undiagnosed heart disease and “confinement in a shower.”
Investigators said the peeling of Rainey’s skin — a condition called “slippage” — wasn’t caused by the heat of the shower but by friction or pressure on his body, which could have occurred when medics tried to revive or move him.
Medical Examiner Emma Lew said Rainey had suffered no burn injuries. “It is not substantiated that the temperatures inside the shower room were excessively high,” she wrote.
Nor did the report cite any evidence that corrections officers would use the hot shower to punish or torture inmates, some of whom complained of treatment similar to Rainey’s in interviews with police detectives and Herald reporters.
An attorney for Rainey’s family, Milton Grimes, told the Associated Press that the family was “disappointed and heartbroken” by the report’s findings.
“This is not justice for Darren, for his family, nor for the mentally ill who have been subject to similar abuse and mistreatment,” Grimes said.
On June 23, 2012, the night of his death, Rainey had served just a few months of a two-year prison sentence. About 7:30 p.m., he defecated in his cell and smeared feces on himself and on the walls. Guards put him in the shower, telling him they wouldn’t let him out until he cleaned himself. According to the state attorney’s report, Rainey refused to stand under the water.
One inmate on orderly duty that night, Harold Hempstead, said in complaints that Rainey was screaming, “I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” Investigators said Hempstead’s statements were contradicted by other evidence.
Guards said they went to check on Rainey every half-hour. About 9:30, one guard found Rainey lying in the water and called for assistance. The report didn’t indicate whether the water in the stall was still running.
Other witnesses said Rainey’s skin appeared to be peeling and red, and one inmate said he looked like a “boiled lobster.” The New Yorker reported the water temperature was 180 degrees, hot enough to brew tea. Two days after Rainey died, prison workers found the hot water temperature in the shower was 160 degrees, still 40 degrees above the state limit, but the state attorney’s report concluded that it wasn’t clear whether the water was that hot when Rainey was inside.
“Placing an inmate who has defecated upon himself in a shower to decontaminate himself is not conduct that is criminally reckless,” prosecutors wrote. “There was no evidence of any intent to harm Rainey.”
Rainey’s family sued the Florida Department of Corrections in federal court in 2016. The case is pending.
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