Attorneys Ask Feds to Investigate Prison Death
The attorneys who represented Trayvon Martin's family have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the death of a Florida inmate who had told relatives she feared for her life in prison.
Thirty-six-year-old Latandra Ellington, a mother of four, was found dead last Wednesday at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala. Attorneys Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump say a major at the prison told Ellington's aunt she would be looked after during a phone call shortly before her death.
Ellington was serving one year and 10 months for fraud charges after she filed fake tax returns.
"All these killings, this epidemic of killings in the Department of Corrections in the last four years or so is not happening by happenstance," Crump said. "Being sentenced to the Department of Corrections is not a death sentence, but lately for many families, that's what it has become."
Parks and Crump say the family has not been provided with any information about Ellington's death. The attorneys had an independent autopsy conducted that showed hemorrhaging was found caused by blunt force trauma from punches or kicks to the lower abdomen.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency is investigating the woman's death. The Department of Corrections released a statement that said "this was an unattended death" and did not provide many details due to the ongoing investigation. It stated Ellington was in "administrative confinement" because the department took seriously the concerns about "alleged threats to her safety."
"The security and safety of our inmates and staff is a priority of the Department," Department of Corrections secretary Michael Crews said in the statement. "Warden (Gustavo) Mazorra notified me of every available detail related to inmate Ellington with a thorough briefing very quickly after the incident, and an investigation was immediately begun.
"If evidence shows any wrongdoing by any Department staff, knowing the facts as soon as possible will allow us to take any appropriate actions quickly."
Parks and Crump sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday stating their belief that prison officers caused the death and asking the Department of Justice to investigate "to prevent spoliation of evidence and ensure a fair and impartial investigation."
Crump said they have not been given any preliminary information from the state's autopsy. Park said Ellington gave the names of the guards who she said threatened her.
Representative Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, called on Gov. Rick Scott to get involved.
"We know that the Governor's incredibly busy trying to win an election, but we should be trying to save a generation of people," Williams said. "Here we have a number of Floridians who have died in our prisons and nothing has happened. It's a travesty of justice and it's a disappointment in leadership that our Governor has not done anything to truly have a real say in this.
"We want transparency. We want this family to have the information they need so they can have closure."
The request for an investigation into Ellington's death comes as a scandal widens over the treatment of Florida prison inmates. Scott's top watchdog has been accused of doing nothing after being warned about a possible cover-up of two suspicious prison deaths.
Randall Jordan-Aparo died at the Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. He was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell. Darren Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner, died at Dade Correctional in 2012 after being punished with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called for a federal investigation into Rainey's death.