A widening scandal focusing on the treatment of Florida prison inmates includes new allegations that Gov. Rick Scott's own top watchdog was warned about the possible cover-up of two suspicious prison deaths but did not do anything.
The Miami Herald reported Friday that the governor's chief inspector general received an anonymous letter in Oct. 2012 that included details about prisoners who had died while in state custody.
But instead of opening an inquiry, Melinda Miguel turned it over to the inspector general at the Department of Corrections, which conducted a cursory review.
Miguel works directly for Scott, but so far the governor has not said anything about the scandal, which has led to the firings of prison employees. The questions surrounding the prison system's handling of the cases has resulted in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement being placed in charge of investigating 82 cases in which prison inmates died from non-natural causes.
The anonymous letter was addressed to Scott and stamped as being received by Miguel. It included details about the deaths of Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010 and Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional in 2012. Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner, was punished in 2012 with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body. Jordan-Aparo was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell.
The letter states that "cronyism and cover-ups are destroying the department."
The Scott administration on Friday did not dispute that Miguel received the anonymous letter but said it came after criminal investigations had been launched.
Frank Collins, a spokesman for Scott, pointed out that both deaths are part of "active criminal investigations" that are being conducted by the FBI, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"They are all lead on these criminal investigations - not the Chief Inspector General," Collins said in a statement adding that Miguel is "coordinating with the lead agencies to ensure that justice for these individuals and their families is done."
Still the timeline shows that FDLE had initially closed the investigation into Jordan-Aparo's death at the time the letter was received. That investigation was reopened with the FBI last September.
Instead of responding to the claims in the letter, Miguel turned it over to DOC's inspector general, which conducted a cursory report, the paper said. A summary of the DOC report notes some "staff violations" in connection with Jordan-Aparo's death, and states that Miami-Dade police were handling Rainey's case.
This past July, the warden at Dade was fired for his handling of the investigation into Rainey's death.
DOC officials in recent weeks have also fired nearly 50 prison employees, including several over abuse allegations that they punched and beat inmates. The agency fired a prison sergeant from Franklin Correctional Institution on Friday for "representing an immediate threat to the safety of the inmates under his care, custody, and control." The department said his firing was prompted by information received from law enforcement related to "potential criminal activity" at the prison.
The Herald also reported that this past March that Miguel refused to give DOC investigators whistle-blower protection after they told her that the department's own inspector general was pressuring them not to charge anyone in the Jordan-Aparo case. She also refused to give whistle-blower protection to a DOC probation officer who also told her about suspicious aspects of Jordan-Aparo's death. That officer was later fired although the department maintains she was terminated for absenteeism.
The latest reports prompted Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, to ask the agency to hand over information related to the two deaths. Soto, who sits on the committee that oversees the department's budget, said legislators have a "constitutional obligation" to make sure that no inmates have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.