Graphic photos stir doubts about Darren Rainey’s ‘accidental’ prison death
The photographs of Darren Rainey’s body are difficult to look at: skin curling from nearly every part of his body, from the top of his nose to his ankles. Large swaths of exposed body tissue, some of it blood red, and other portions straw yellow. Skin blistering on portions of his face, his ears and his neck. Deep red tissue exposed on his chest, his back, a thigh and an arm. Yellow tissue exposed on his buttocks and left leg.
About the only portion of his body not affected are his feet.
Paramedic Alexander Lopez saw the injuries firsthand that evening, after Rainey collapsed and died in a shower in the mental health unit at Dade Correctional Institution on Jan. 23, 2012.
“[Patient] was found with second- and third-degree burns on 30 percent of his body,” Lopez wrote, adding that prison staff told him that “inmate was found on shower floor with hot water running.”
The autopsy report, which inexplicably took three years to be completed and another year to be released, was puzzling to Rainey’s relatives, who said they were pressured by prison officials to immediately have him cremated.
Fernández Rundle issued a final report on the case on March 17, announcing her decision not to file charges. She conducted the investigation after the Miami Herald reported that the makeshift shower had been used by guards to torment prisoners who suffered from mental illnesses. Unlike other showers in the prison, it was rigged so that the temperature controls were in an adjacent room, inaccessible to inmates locked inside.
Inmates in the unit told the Herald — and later detectives — that Rainey had been placed in the shower by officer Roland Clarke after Rainey defecated on himself, and that other officers stood by as Rainey screamed and begged for help while banging on the shower door. He was found face up, in a pool of water, more than 90 minutes later.
Inmates and staff described how after Rainey was carried out of the shower, he was so red he looked like he had been “boiled’’ — and that his skin was peeling off his body “like fruit roll-ups.”
Fernández Rundle said the absence of burns made it impossible to prove that a crime had been committed, since it meant the shower was not dangerously hot. She emphasized that “science” showed that Rainey did not die from the actions of the corrections officers.
However, Marraccini and Baden both told the Herald the photos indicate burns over a significant portion of Rainey’s body.
Marraccini, former medical examiner in Palm Beach County, faulted the Miami-Dade medical examiner for not taking additional skin tissue samples, since it is important to look at skin tissue from the area that suffered the most damage.
The Herald asked Lew to indicate from where on Rainey’s anatomy she took the skin tissue sample. It was one of the questions she did not answer.
Grimes, who declined to comment for this story, has suggested that police and state attorney investigators gave too much weight to corrections officers’ statements and not enough to the broader context — including evidence that the temperature of the rigged shower was a dangerous 160 degrees when turned on full hot — and that corrections officers had been abusing mentally ill prisoners for years.
Among other things, the Herald has found the following problems with the state attorney’s (SAO) review of Rainey’s death:
The SAO said a paramedic on the scene, Alexander Lopez, “noted that there were no signs of trauma on Rainey’s body …”
In fact, Lopez, who examined Rainey’s body, did not mention in his report if there were or weren’t signs of trauma. But he did write that Rainey “was found with second- and third-degree burns on approximately 30 percent of his body.”
The state attorney also failed to mention that Brittany McLaurin, an investigator with the medical examiner’s office, wrote in a report the day after Rainey’s death: “Visible trauma was noticed throughout the decedent’s body.”
The SAO dismisses a finding by the prison health and safety inspector, Darlene Dixon, that the hot water in the shower tested at 160 degrees, far higher than is safe. Dixon took the reading two days after Rainey’s death. The state attorney said the reading was questionable for two reasons: Dixon used a meat thermometer and another staff member measured the water at 120 degrees earlier the same day.
In fact, the Herald has learned, Dixon not only told investigators that the shower tested at 160 degrees when on full-hot, but that she had previously put in work orders on multiple occasions asking that the unsafe situation be fixed. Detectives and the state attorney failed to explore or even mention that in the final report.