In what has become a frequent exercise, Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews on Friday fired 32 workers accused of breaking the law, including three prison guards involved in the gassing death of an inmate at a Panhandle prison four years ago.
All of the workers fired were on administrative leave pending a review launched earlier this summer. The housecleaning is part of the secretary’s attempt to salvage the reputation of the beleaguered agency in the wake of reports of widespread abuse and corruption, whistleblower complaints and federal investigations surrounding prisoner deaths.
Among the axed workers are Rollin Austin, Randall Johnson and Kevin Hampton, three former prison guards at Franklin Correctional Institution where inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died after allegedly being repeatedly gassed by guards and then left to die.
Dismissal letters from Crews to the workers say they are being let go because they “participated in a force incident that resulted in the death of an inmate.” None of the fired workers has been arrested or charged with any crimes.
Four Department of Corrections investigators say they’ve been retaliated against for exposing a cover-up about Jordan-Aparo’s September 2010 death. The investigators claim that Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general Melinda Miguel — who refused to grant them whistleblower protection — was aware of the cover-up for at least three years. The DOC investigators, who found that Jordan-Aparo was too ill to warrant being treated as a threat, are themselves now the subjects of internal reviews.
According to a whistleblower lawsuit, Austin gave the order to gas Jordan-Aparo, who died five hours later after being gassed twice more and being left to die. The 27-year-old, coated in yellow residue from the noxious chemicals, was found dead in solitary confinement with a Bible beside his head. Jordan-Aparo was serving an 18-month sentence for fraud and drug charges.
Also fired Friday were nine Charlotte Correctional Institution guards involved in the April 11 death of inmate Matthew Walker, who was allegedly beaten to death while handcuffed. Walker’s death — and that of another inmate who died at the Punta Gorda facility a month later — are among more than 80 inmate deaths now being probed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Fifteen prison guards at Union Correctional Institution, all under investigation for use-of-force incidents against prisoners over the past two years, were also pink-slipped Friday. Another guard at the Raiford prison was also fired for unspecified reasons.
Crews’ review also resulted in three employees being sent back to work, including the assistant warden at the Raiford prison, Nan Jeffcoat, who has been on leave with pay since the death of an inmate two years ago.
Crews has been on a housecleaning mission in the wake of Miami Herald reports earlier this year about Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution who died after guards allegedly forced him to shower in scalding hot water as punishment two years ago..
“I have made it clear that there is zero tolerance for corruption or abuse at the Department of Corrections, and we continue to root out any-and-all bad actors who do not live up to our expectations. Our standards are high and we will accept nothing less to ensure the safety of our staff and those in our custody, as well as Florida families,” Crews said.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida