MIAMI.- The government of the state of Florida keeps making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Exhibit A is a prison system characterized by brutality, impunity, and cronyism. In Florida, being imprisoned can be a death sentence even if you were never sentenced to death by a judge.
In recent months, a disturbing number of cases have come to light in which inmates died after being beaten by guards or even scalded to death after being locked inside a shower for a prolonged period with very hot water running.
Yet the latest horror story to be made public, involving the deadly gassing of an inmate at the Franklin Correctional Institution in northern Florida, tops them all. In itself, the unprovoked lethal gassing of a sick, helpless prisoner evokes terrible historical memories. In addition, this incident embodies just about everything that is wrong with the Florida penal system, including corruption, cover-ups, and lack of professionalism. And they almost got away with it. Or maybe they did.
It all began one day in 2010 when inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo allegedly cursed at a prison nurse. To teach Jordan-Aparo a lesson, guards fired nine rounds of noxious gas into his small cell through a slot in the door. Then they left, ignoring the prisoner’s desperate cries that he couldn’t breathe and begging for help.
Jordan-Aparo did not pass what turned out to be his final exam. Prison guards found him dead on the floor. It took them five hours to discover his body lying face down.
Accounts of the condition in which the body was found make it clear Jordan-Aparo suffered an agonizing demise. His mouth and nose were pressed against the bottom of the door in an evident and futile attempt to breathe.
Then came either a deliberate cover-up or a disastrously incompetent investigation. The duo of Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents sent to look into the case reached a stunning conclusion: the gassing had nothing to do with Jordan-Aparo’s death. Case closed.
There the matter would have rested had it not been for a fluke, the alleged flagrant sexual misconduct of a female correctional officer at the facility three years later. When four Corrections Department inspectors were sent to investigate the sex scandal, they stumbled upon the Jordan-Aparo incident after inmates informed them that any sexual escapades paled in seriousness compared with the horrific suffering inflicted on Jordan-Aparo.
The inspectors took the allegations seriously. They conducted a thorough investigation. Based on close scrutiny of surveillance audio and video and much other evidence they discovered that prison staff lied on such critical facts as whether the inmate was behaving in a disorderly manner before the tragedy.
They also found what can described literally as a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude: Department of corrections staff assigned to investigate the case did not even watch the surveillance video that showed the prisoner being gassed! The four inspectors concluded that Jordan-Aparo died as a result of medical negligence and the “sadistic, retaliatory” use of chemical agents by guards.
But in Florida state government no good deed goes unpunished. The higher ups tried to interfere with and intimidate their own investigators. According to court papers filed as part of a suit by the four inspectors, their boss, Jeffrey Beasley, the Inspector General of the Corrections Department, threatened to “have their asses” if they kept digging into the Jordan-Aparo case. Beasley had the investigators themselves put under investigation. The four then informed a higher ranking official than Beasley, the governor’s chief inspector general Melinda Miguel, about the facts of the case and sought “whistleblower” status as a shield against retaliation. Miguel denied it. Subsequently, two additional inspectors came forward to allege intimidation for exposing corrections department wrongdoing in unrelated cases.
All this is too sordid for words. But it is no anomaly. It’s the way the business of this state is carried out in 2014, and not only in the corrections department. Honest public servants doing their work with integrity and professionalism are harassed and neutralized by politicians who don’t know the meaning of those words.
Exhibit B of this abominable reality is none other than the top dog himself, Gov. Rick Scott. I could cite any number of examples but I will focus on the most recent. A series of emails and meetings show that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was determined not to allow the construction of a huge yacht and marina complex on Watson Island. Then the developer of the proposed project hired lobbyist William Rubin, who just happens to be a buddy of Scott’s.
What happened then is described by the Miami Herald:
“Within weeks of Rubin’s hiring, the DEP dropped its opposition to the estimated half-billion dollar resort project. Instead, Secretary Herschel Vinyard recommended the state waive a significant impediment: a deed restriction barring private development on Watson Island, land the state deeded to Miami in 1919.
“Gov. Scott and the Cabinet unanimously approved the controversial waiver on May 19….”
Screw the environment. Let’s build and they (campaign contributions) will come.
The moral of Exhibits A and B is simple. The rot in Florida starts at the top.