The June 2012 death of Darren Rainey, an inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida, attracted national attention after other inmates claimed he was burned like “a boiled lobster” after about two hours in a shower that guards had modified to punish prisoners.
A Florida prosecutor issued a 101-page report earlier this month that cleared guards of any wrongdoing in Rainey’s death. The prosecutor, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, called Rainey’s death an accident resulting from his schizophrenia and heart disease and from confinement in the shower room.
But a trove of official documents reviewed by The Huffington Post indicates that some information from police, the prison and emergency services was not included in the prosecutor’s final report, which raises questions about the circumstances surrounding Rainey’s death. A review of the documents was permitted by a person with close access to the investigation who asked not to be identified sharing non-public information.
Numerous official photos taken of Rainey’s body several hours after he died were also reviewed by HuffPost. The images reveal extreme damage to his skin, with wounds over his entire body and significant sections of skin missing, exposing red and white tissue and, in some areas, what appear to be blood vessels. A medical examiner who has reviewed the Rainey autopsy and to whom HuffPost described the information contained in the records says the cause of death as stated doesn’t make sense. (HuffPost was not given permission to copy or share the actual documents.)
Some of the information in the records HuffPost reviewed has been referenced in court records or the reporting of The Miami Herald’s Julie Brown, who has followed the case for years. Here’s what we found in comparing the information from the documents and photos to the prosecutor’s report.
The prosecutor’s report omits that the water was too hot for an investigator’s skin.
One record, dated Sept. 10, 2014, contains the transcript of an interview with Capt. Darlene Dixon, the environmental health and safety officer at the prison, who, two days after Rainey’s death, was ordered to check the shower’s water temperature by Warden Jerry Cummings. (Cummings was fired two years after Rainey’s death and after another inmate died.)
The shower didn’t have working water controls in the room, and the water didn’t spray from a shower head. It had been rigged to use water taps in an adjacent janitorial closet, where piping that carried hot and cold water from the faucet went up the shared wall, through the wall and into the shower room.
Dixon told investigators about her first attempt to test the water in the shower room. After the prison officer who accompanied her turned on the hot water from inside the janitorial closet, the water hit the wall of the shower and splashed “on her hand, and was hurting her because it was too hot,” according to an interview report reviewed by HuffPost. Steam “appeared in the shower within a few minutes of turning on the hot water,” Dixon said, according to the report of her interview with Miami-Dade police Det. Wilbert Sanchez, the lead investigator.
But these details do not appear in the prosecutor’s report. It describes Dixon taking the temperature only at the tap, which, according to the original investigative interview, was actually her second attempt to test the water. At the hot water tap in the janitor’s closet, using a meat thermometer borrowed from the prison’s food services department because her digital thermometer was broken, the water registered 160 degrees ― 40 degrees higher than the maximum mandated temperature setting for hot water in the prison, the prosecutor’s report says.
Most adults will suffer third-degree burns if exposed to water hotter than 150 degrees for even a few seconds. First-degree burns cause redness, second-degree burns create swelling and blistering and third-degree burns go through the skin to deeper tissues, according to WebMD.
The prosecutor’s report highlights the county medical examiner’s conclusion that Rainey wasn’t burned. But a paramedic noted skin burns in his report.
A medic’s record reviewed by HuffPost from the night Rainey died indicates that he suffered burns despite the county medical examiner’s conclusion in the prosecutor’s report that he did not. Lt. Alexander Lopez, a firefighter and paramedic with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, reported that he examined Rainey’s body about 50 minutes after he was found dead on the shower floor “with 2nd and 3rd degree burns on approximately 30 percent of his body.” Also, Lopez notes that CPR was administered to Rainey and that when he arrived his body was “cool” to the touch. Rainey could have been dead up to 30 minutes before his body was discovered, according to the prosecutor’s report.
The report notes the CPR Rainey received and Lopez’s view that Rainey’s body was “cool” but omits the skin burn information. Instead, the report suggests that Lopez believed what he saw were “burns and/or skin slippage,” the report reads.
The prosecutor’s report says a nurse failed to take Rainey’s body temperature. But in her original report, she noted that she had and it registered nearly 105 degrees.
An emergency room record from the Florida Department of Corrections dated the night of Rainey’s death also notes substantial burns on Rainey’s body. Britney Wilson, who worked at Dade Correctional Institution as a licensed practical nurse, writes in her report, which indicates she examined Rainey’s body 10 minutes after it was discovered, that he was found with “1st degree burns to 90% of his body” and that his skin was “hot/warm” to the touch.
She also notes that she took his “tympanic” body temperature (via his ear), and it was 104.9 degrees. (A body temperature above 103 is considered dangerous, according to the Mayo Clinic.) These details are largely omitted from the prosecutor’s memo, which indicates only that Wilson observed that Rainey’s skin “appeared red and wrinkled,” that she told a 911 operator that “Rainey’s body appeared to be burned” and that she “noticed some skin slippage.” The most notable inconsistency is that the memo says Wilson tried “unsuccessfully” to take Rainey’s temperature.
Photos of Rainey’s body and indications of thermometer readings suggest his body temperature was “much higher than normal when he died,” a top pathologist says.
HuffPost also examined about 10 images of Rainey’s body taken by county officials about 12 hours after he was discovered dead.
The disturbing images show severe wounds on numerous sections of Rainey’s skin. Entire swaths of skin and, in places, what appear to be multiple layers are either missing, bunched up at the edges of wounds or hanging loosely at the edges of wounds.
Some wounds are a deep red, with blood vessels clearly visible. Other wounds expose underlying tissue.
Rainey’s chest and back appear to be the most severely damaged. His chest wound exposes a dark red layer of tissue from his neck to mid-abdomen. White tissue is exposed on his entire upper and mid-back with some red splotches throughout the large exposed area.
The skin on his left arm appears severely wounded, with deep red and white tissue exposed as well as sections of blood vessels. Rainey had a tattoo on his upper left arm, under his shoulder, which is nearly indecipherable because it appears that several layers of skin are missing.
Rainey’s legs show wounds on his thighs, shins and calves.
Multiple skin wounds are visible on his forehead, cheeks, ears, neck and nose, with what appears to be the deepest wound on the bridge of his nose, where white and red tissue is exposed.
One image shows a rectal thermometer reading of about 94 degrees ― the temperature of his body believed to have been taken the morning after his death.
The photos and the temperature reading were described to Dr. Michael Baden, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist known for his work on many high-profile deaths, including the private autopsy conducted on Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and for his work on HBO’s “Autopsy” series.
Baden explained that the 94 degree temperature may be unusual. “This temperature would indicate, if the photos were taken about 10 or 12 hours after he died, that his body temperature was much higher than normal when he died,” Baden said.
He explained that when a person dies, body temperature drops about 1.5 degrees every hour, on average, depending on the temperature of the environment the body is kept in. If a person dies in a 70 degree room, 10 hours later, pathologists would expect the body temperature to have dropped about 15 degrees. And that would speed up if the body was placed in a cold environment or slow down in a warm one. Although it’s not clear if Rainey’s body was put into refrigeration in the medical examiner’s office before these photos were taken, that would be a standard procedure, Baden said. That means that if Rainey’s body temperature was still 94 degrees the morning after he died, his body temperature may have been as high as 109 degrees when he died.
In the Rainey autopsy report, Miami-Dade medical examiner Dr. Emma Lew notes that Rainey’s rectal temperature is at 94 degrees 12 hours after death. That, coupled with a 102 degree temperature taken by a second nurse after he was found dead, does indicate that Rainey “had an elevated body temperature at the time of death,” Lew notes. However, because it remains unknown what Rainey’s body temperature was when he first entered the shower room, Lew doesn’t conclude that it was the hot shower water that caused Rainey’s increased body temperature. Rainey had defecated in his cell and had smeared feces on himself, his cell and bedsheets, which is why he was taken to the shower, the prosecutor’s report said.
Lew writes that it cannot be ruled out that Rainey’s high temperature may have been associated with a “psychotic episode which prompted him to smear feces on his body.”
The medical examiner’s opinion in the prosecutor’s report cites causes of death that “raise problems,” a forensic pathologist says.
Baden, who has examined Rainey’s official autopsy report but who did not examine any of the documents or photos that HuffPost reviewed, also questioned the stated cause of death. Baden says it “raises problems.”
“Number one, schizophrenia is a disease; it isn’t a cause of death. Schizophrenia is not a cause of sudden death,” Baden said. Secondly, Baden explained, according to the autopsy report, Rainey’s heart disease is “minimal” and his “heart is not remarkable for a 50-year-old person.” Lastly, Baden said, the indication that confinement in the shower also contributed to his death “does not make sense.”
“That wouldn’t cause death itself,” Baden said. “People don’t die in confined spaces unless there’s something else happening. The only way you really die in a confined space is if you use up all the oxygen.”
Baden also questions the notion that the death was accidental.
“What is being described is a natural death,” Baden said. “Even if it were schizophrenia and it was heart disease, why then is it an accident? Because of the confined space? No. The cause of death as indicated does not appear to me to be consistent with the autopsy findings.”
“Skin slippage” doesn’t explain the state of Rainey’s body, a pathology expert says.
Rainey’s skin wounds, described as “skin slippage” by Dr. Lew, were the result of normal post-mortem decomposition, “exposure to a warm, moist environment” and friction or pressure placed on his body by medics or prison officials who were trying to revive him or when they moved his body.
Baden also questions this conclusion.
“Skin slippage can occur in decomposition, but not in a matter of hours. That doesn’t make sense either that there’d be skin slippage of any kind at this point after his death,” Baden said. “The circumstances I’m aware of along with the autopsy report would indicate the cause of death is not accurate and that he died of the heat, the hot water that he was placed under. The cause of death as attributed does not make sense.”
Prosecutors disregarded the testimony of multiple inmates because they say it was inconsistent.
Multiple inmates claimed that the shower had been used to punish uncooperative inmates, the prosecutor report noted. Some inmates said that they saw Rainey’s lifeless body carried out of the shower and that his skin appeared to be peeling off his body and was red in some sections. One inmate claimed Rainey looked like a “boiled lobster.” Other inmates said they could hear Rainey screaming in the shower for several minutes.
One inmate, Harold Hempstead, who worked as an orderly in the mental ward building of the prison that Rainey was housed in on the night he died, said he heard Rainey cry out, “I’m sorry,” “I won’t do it anymore” and “I can’t take it no more,” until the inmate “heard a fall,” according to the prosecutor’s report.
The prosecutor’s office ultimately found the inmates’ allegations not credible. They said Hempstead’s timeline of events did not match that of prison surveillance video from the night Rainey died and said he couldn’t have seen some of things he claimed to have seen. Prosecutors also suggested that other inmates’ allegations may have been influenced by meetings with Hempstead.
The prosecutors concluded that there was no evidence that the shower had ever been used for punishment and that the shower Rainey was placed in was neither “dangerous nor unsafe.”
Lew, the medical examiner, ultimately concluded that claims that temperatures inside the shower room were “excessively high” were unsubstantiated. She dismissed reports that the water temperature was 160 degrees and said that there was no evidence Rainey had actually suffered any burns to his body at all. Lew said that people with schizophrenia can have an “impaired ability to compensate for heat stress” and that, coupled with a medication he was taking to help with his mental illness, it could have contributed to Rainey suffering from hyperthermia in the shower and a “pre-disposition to sudden cardiac arrest.”
When contacted about the documents and photos reviewed by HuffPost, Ed Griffith, public information officer for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, said that in the course of its investigation into the incident, the office “amassed a large volume” of materials and as such it would not be possible to include every detail in their report.
“The contradictions and inconsistencies contained within the materials are part of the reason for the prolonged consideration,” Griffith said.
When asked about the water temperature in the shower room that “hurt” the skin of Dixon, the prison health and safety inspector, Griffith explained that Dixon tested the hot water two days after Rainey’s death, which “would not be determinative evidence of the water temperature two days earlier.”
With regard to the medic’s report describing “2nd and 3rd degree burns on approximately 30 percent of his body,” Griffith said that those details were a “recounting” of what others at the scene of Rainey’s death told him when he arrived and does not reflect “an independent medical evaluation.”
Griffith provided HuffPost with Lopez’s sworn testimony about what he saw the night of Rainey’s death and the contents of his report. Lopez says that the description of Rainey’s body on the front page of his report was what he was told by prison staffers. In his testimony, he added that he saw “what appeared to be burns,” but when asked if what he observed could have been “skin slippage,” Lopez says, “it could have been.”
“The amount of slippage, about 30%, is not inconsistent with the photos,” Griffith added. He also said that the slippage did not begin until Rainey’s “skin was touched in efforts to provide medical assistance” and that three prison nurses noted that Rainey’s skin appeared to be intact while he was still on the floor of the shower. Initially, Griffith explained that skin was displaced when Rainey was picked up and carried to the stretcher. Then more skin was displaced on his chest and back while CPR was performed for about 45 minutes.
Regarding nurse Wilson’s report about a nearly 105 degree temperature measured from Rainey’s ear, Griffith referred to Wilson’s sworn testimony, which he also provided to HuffPost, in which she does not mention the ear temperature reading. Instead, she says she tried to take Rainey’s temperature with a digital thermometer under his arm and rectally but both attempts resulted in an “error” readout on the thermometer.
Regarding Rainey’s body temperature at death, Griffith said “there definitely was an elevated body temperature.” But attempting to explain that temperature, “in the absence of burns, is one of the reasons the case evaluation was prolonged.”
Griffith said his office ruled out the water causing Rainey’s raised body temperature “because of the medical evidence and witnesses.”
Lew, responding to Braden’s remarks that Rainey’s body temperature was likely higher than normal when he died, told HuffPost she doesn’t disagree with his point. On his remarks on Rainey’s cause of death not making sense, Lew said, “Dr. Baden is an expert. Experts are allowed to give their opinions.” Responding to Baden’s remarks on skin slippage, she said simply, “It is Dr. Baden’s opinion.”
The Miami-Dade Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Milton Grimes, attorney for the Rainey family, said he could not comment specifically on the documents and photos reviewed by HuffPost but did say he has seen inconsistencies in the report when compared against other materials.
“I can say that a lot of statements in the report are inaccurate based on the discovery we have received. I am confused and troubled by what I’ve seen,” Grimes said and added that there are “important, pertinent and relevant facts” that were left out of the prosecutor’s memo.
“At a minimum, based on the totality of information that I have seen,” Grimes said, “there was culpable negligence in the death of Darren Rainey.”
In 2016, Grimes filed a lawsuit on behalf of Rainey’s family against the Florida Department of Corrections over the death, which is pending.
In May 2016, The New Yorker published an article written by Eyal Press about the experiences of Harriet Krzykowski, a former counselor at Dade Correctional Institution who says she faced retaliation from prison staff when she raised questions about alleged inmate abuse in the facility. She told the magazine the water from the faucet that fed into the shower where Rainey died was so hot that she sometimes used it to cook ramen noodles.