Thirty Two Florida Prison Guards Fired Amid Allegations of Abuse

George Lavender

Florida’s prison chief took the drastic measure of firing thirty two prison guards on Friday amid widespread accusations of criminal wrongdoing and misconduct in the state’s prison system. The Miami Herald reports that many of those fired were connected with suspicious deaths in custody

Eighteen of those fired by Secretary Michael Crews were involved in the death of Matthew Walker at Charlotte Correctional Institution on April 11. Walker, 55, was killed in what the DOC is calling an inappropriate use of force.”

Five other fired corrections officers from Union Correctional had been accused of using excessive force in the death of inmate Rudolf Rowe on Aug. 16, 2012. Continue reading…

Among those dismissed on Friday was Rollin Suttle Austin. In 2010, a prisoner at Franklin Correctional, Randall Jordan-Aparo, died after being gassed on Austin’s orders. An investigation by Florida Law Enforcement found that Jordan-Aparo’s death was unrelated to the gassing.

Austin remained on the job for three years, until a team of prison system inspectors visited Franklin to look into unrelated wrongdoing and stumbled onto the circumstances behind Jordan-Aparo’s death, calling it a case of sadistic, retaliatory” behavior by guards. Continue reading…

Jordan-Aparo’s death is now under investigation by the US Department of Justice. The Miami Herald’s investigation found Austin’s personnel file contained multiple allegations of wrongdoing.

Austin allegedly operated very much the way corrections officers have been trained for decades, according to Ron McAndrew, a prison consultant who studied the phenomenon of goon squads’’ while he was warden at Florida State Prison in Starke in 1998.

McAndrew testified in legislative hearings that goon squads” of guards have long roamed Florida’s prisons, attacking inmates and enforcing vigilante justice, while higher-ups turned a blind eye, as they did in 1999 when a squad of guards beat and killed Death Row inmate Frank Valdes.

McAndrew said the sheer number of Austin’s complaints — and the similar pattern of abuse alleged in them — should have been a red flag to his superiors at the prison and in Tallahassee. Continue reading..

As reported here at The Prison Complex, Florida’s prisons have faced increased scrutiny in the wake of the 2012 death of Darren Rainey. Rainey, who was diagnosed with mental health issues, was allegedly locked in a scalding hot shower by prison guards as punishment for defecating in his cell. When his body was found an hour later, his skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage” the Herald reports.

The trade union representing Florida prison guards, hit back at the firings, which it called the Friday night massacre.” A representative from the Teamsters told the Miami Herald the sackings were being done to divert attention from more senior management.

You lead by example and you’ve got to start at the top and set the standard,’’ said Les Cantrell, statewide coordinator for Teamsters Local 2011, the union representing state corrections officers.

I’m not telling you that people shouldn’t be disciplined, but taking it out to the first line of officers doesn’t fix your middle management or your upper management.’’ Continue reading…

Reuters reports that earlier this month Secretary Crews issued a memo which described the department’s failure to hold staff accountable for wrongdoing.

The lack of consistent consequences for the same crime has the potential of undermining the culture of professionalism that is necessary for running institutions with integrity,” he wrote. Continue reading..

According to the Herald, Secretary Crews plans to more rigorously discipline corrections officers who committ wrongdoing.” 

George Lavender is an award-winning radio and print journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeLavender.
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