Nearly two years after Miami man Frank Smith died in a clash with guards at Union Correctional, the investigation continues with no end in sight.
BY STEVE BOUSQUET
TIMES/HERALD TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
Nearly two years after a state prison inmate died under suspicious circumstances, the Department of Corrections has offered no reasons for his death and 10 employees suspended over the incident are still on leave and drawing full pay.
Frank Smith of Miami was 44 when he died on Sept. 4, 2012, after a violent altercation with officers as he was being moved from a prison hospital to his cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.
The Department of Corrections placed 10 staff members, including an assistant warden, on paid leave, a routine step when employees are suspected of wrongdoing. So far, taxpayers have paid nearly $700,000 in salaries to them for not working.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement took control of the case 21 months ago and FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the investigation continues. He said the delay could be because of the time needed to complete toxicology reports.
“There’s no time line that I can give you” on when the investigation will end, Bailey said.
The Alachua County Medical Examiner has declined to release details of Smith’s autopsy, citing the investigation. Gainesville-area State Attorney Bill Cervone said Wednesday that nothing has been presented to his office for possible prosecution.
Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution in Miami, was scalded to death in a prison shower in 2012. Another inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, 27, died in his cell at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 after he was repeatedly gassed by guards as he begged for treatment for a worsening medical condition, the Miami Herald reported.
In that case, four investigators with the Department of Corrections filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit, claiming that inmates are beaten and tortured and that prison supervisors fabricated official reports to cover up Jordan-Aparo’s death, the Herald reported.
“They killed that damn kid,” prison investigator Aubrey Land told Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, in March, according to the Herald.
Land and investigators David Clark, Doug Glisson and John Ulm said in their suit that they faced “false and unwarranted” internal affairs complaints and sued after Miguel’s office denied them whistle-blower status.
Scott repeatedly cites the drop in the crime rate as a reason why he deserves to win re-election. On a public safety tour this week, he won endorsements from police chiefs and sheriffs across the state.
Scott has said nothing about the inmate deaths since a few days after Smith’s death became public in October 2012. At that time, he said: “I think all of us want to make sure that anybody that’s in one of our prisons is treated with respect and they’re safe.”
Soon after the state confirmed Smith’s death, prison officials replaced Union Warden Barry Reddish without explanation.
Union Correctional Institution employees placed on paid leave included assistant warden Nan Jeffcoat; Lt. Joseph Allen; Sgt. Darryl Phillips; and officers Joshua Bostic, David Brooks, Jermaine Corley, Robert Hill, Clinton Hodges, Derrick Searcy and Kenneth Warren.
Jeffcoat has been on paid leave since Oct. 8, 2012. The others have been on paid leave since Oct. 5, 2012.
All received form letters notifying them that they were being placed on paid leave “pending investigation of charges which could result in your dismissal.”
Most of the employees could not be reached for comment.
“I can’t talk about this,” Warren said Wednesday, denying that his suspension is related to Smith’s death.
“It ain’t because of that,” he said.
At the time it confirmed Smith’s death, the prison system opened investigations into possible excessive use of force on five other Union inmates: Christopher Arnold, Ronnie Daniels, Willie Knight, Rudolph Rowe and Leslie Smith.
Smith, a career criminal with a lengthy rap sheet, was nearing the end of a 16-year term for carjacking and assault convictions. The prison system said his visitation privileges were suspended for six months in 2009 for lewd exhibition of body parts and for a year in 2011 for possession of narcotics.
The prison system lists Smith as 5-8 and 129 pounds. His ghostly mug shot can still be seen, staring blankly ahead on the Department of Corrections web site. His status: “Deceased.”