TIME justice

Suspicious Prison Deaths Put a Spotlight on Florida

Latandra Ellington Florida Department of Corrections

Several deaths while in prison custody are under investigation

On Oct. 1, Latandra Ellington was found dead inside the Lowell Correction Institution in Ocala, Fla., apparently from repeated blows to her stomach. About a week and a half before, the 36-year-old inmate had written a letter to her aunt, saying she was concerned for her safety in prison and claimed that an officer named “Sgt. Q” was threatening to kill her.

According to attorneys representing Ellington’s family, an independent autopsy shows blunt force trauma and hemorrhaging to her body from what appeared to be punches or kicks. The attorneys, along with several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, are calling for a federal investigation into her death.

The Ellington case is one of several suspicious deaths in state prisons that have made headlines in Florida, including a deadly incident in 2010 involving Randall Jordan-Aparo, who reportedly died while being gassed in his cell, and Darren Rainey, who died in 2012 after being forced to take a scalding hot shower that caused his skin to separate from his body.

Ellington’s death is the third fatality in custody at Lowell this year. Two others at the prison are under review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

While the inmate mortality rate in Florida and across the country has remained relatively steady over the last decade, Florida outpaces most states in terms of mortality rate per 100,000 inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Florida Department of Corrections. In 2001, 182 prisoners died in Florida compared with 297 in 2011, but the population also grew at a similar rate over that same time period. The mortality rate per 100,000 prisoners slightly increased from 253 in 2001 to 294 in 2011.

Part of that may be due to the rapidly aging prison population in Florida, which mirrors the state’s population generally. From 2001 to 2008, the number of Florida inmates who were 55 and older increased by 161%, says Bill Bales, a criminology professor at Florida State University. And the number of federal and state prisoners in the U.S. who were 55 and older increased 94% in the same time period, according to Pew Research.

Overall and nationwide, the largest share of prisoner deaths—almost 90%—are due to illness. But the share of state prisoner deaths due to homicide—which includes homicide committed by other inmates, prison staff or those resulting from assaults prior to incarceration—have increased from 1.4% in 2001 to 2.1% in 2011 around the country, according to BJS.

This year in Florida, there have been three homicides and one suicide in state prisons. Investigations into 99 other deaths are currently pending.

Dan Mears, a criminal justice professor at the University of Florida, says prisons with increases in suspicious inmate deaths often have problems that start at the top and work their way down. Florida’s Department of Corrections, for example, has gone through four leadership changes in the last five years.

“At the end of the day, when you’re asking why some prisons have higher rates of suicide or higher rates of suspicious deaths and why they increase over time, it’s often because they’re being poorly administered—and oftentimes they’ve hired new officers who aren’t as highly trained,” Mears says. “That could potentially fuel those deaths.”

Mears adds that badly run prisons often have inadequate training for officers and don’t properly teach them how to handle conflicts with inmates, which can often lead to fatal consequences.

In September, the Florida DOC fired dozens of employees, many of whom have been involved in deaths that are currently under investigation, including that of Jordan-Aparo, who was gassed in his cell. Their dismissal letters said they were fired for participating “in a force incident that resulted in the death of an inmate.”

A Lowell prison official, Sgt. Patrick Quercioli, is now being investigated in Ellington’s death, according to the Miami Herald, and has been arrested twice while tallying 22 use-of-force filings while working for the DOC.

“Our department should be held to the highest standards, and I have zero tolerance for anything,” DOC Secretary Michael Crews said in a statement.

As the state reviews the case, attorneys for Ellington’s family, who also represent the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012, are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.

“She was not sentenced to the death sentence,” said civil rights attorney Daryl Parks, according to the Herald. “The Department of Corrections certainly owed her far greater protection.”

TIME Crime

Slender Man Stabbing Suspect Deemed Incompetent for Trial

Enthusiasts Enjoy Comic Con As It Opens In London
Yasmin Ouard poses as Slenderman from the series Mobile Hornets ahead of the MCM London Comic Con Expo Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

A 12-year-old suspect in the stabbing linked to the fictional online character reportedly believes she has Vulcan Mind control

A Wisconsin circuit court judge ruled Friday that one of the two 12-year old girls charged with stabbing a classmate in Wisconsin is incompetent to stand trial for attempted homicide.

This May, two girls allegedly stabbed their classmate during a sleepover to prove their loyalty to the popular online fictional character Slender Man. The creepy figure has been linked to three separate acts of violence, according to ABC News.

Wisconsin law requires any person age 10 and over to be charged as an adult for severe crimes. In this case, the victim was allegedly stabbed 19 times in a nearby woods, with the blade narrowly missing an main artery near her heart. She managed to crawl out of the woods and was found by a passing biker.

Psychologist Brooke Lundbohm of the Wisconsin Forensic Unit analyzed the suspect in question this June. According to the Journal Sentinal, Lundbohm said the 12-year old claimed she could hear and see things like unicorns, the Slender Man and the Harry Potter character Voldemort. Psychiatrist Kenneth Robbins testified that the suspect believes she has Vulcan mind control and is more concerned with angering Slender Man than the prospect of a long prison sentence.

The defendant’s attorneys hope to move the case from adult to juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be 25 years.

[Journal-Sentinal]

TIME Prisons

Report: Georgia Prisons Rife With Brutal Violence

A report by a human rights organization finds that violence is on the rise within Georgia's prison system

A report released Wednesday found that Georgia’s prisons are beset with violence that is growing increasingly brutal.

Since 2010, Georgia prisoners have killed 33 other inmates and one officer, the report found. Created by the Southern Center for Human Rights, the report also found that Georgia in 2012 had more homicides in its prisons than some other states, including neighboring Alabama and South Carolina, did in the last 10 years.

That violence, the Center found, is getting worse. Three times as many prisoners were killed in Georgia’s prisons in 2012 than in 2002. According to the report, prisoners in Georgia are often left unsupervised, put in cells with faulty locks and given access to lethal weapons. One prisoner had to be airlifted to a burn center after he had bleach poured into his eyes and boiling water thrown over his face and genitals. Another lost three fingers to a fellow inmate who was in possession of a 19-inch knife at Wilcox State Prison. And just last week, a prisoner at Augusta State Medical Prison died after being stabbed.

Though the report acknowledges violence is a problem in all prisons, it finds that Georgia’s Department of Corrections “has shown a pattern of apathy in the face of security breaches and a failure to respond to known, dangerous conditions.” It also calls on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the problem and find a way to end the escalating violence.

TIME brazil

Brazil Drafts Guide to Surviving A Mugging at the World Cup

Brazil v Japan: Group A - FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013
Security services patrol as protestors gather prior to the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Brazil and Japan at National Stadium on June 15, 2013 Scott Heavey—Getty Images

A local newspaper reports that police plan to distribute a brochure at the tournament to soccer fans that includes advice on how to avoid being robbed and tips on how to confront a mugger, like "do not react, scream or argue"

Soccer fans the world over may want to file this under essential summer reading: A brochure, drafted by Brazilian police, on how to survive being mugged at the 2014 World Cup.

Brazilian newspaper Estadao de Sao Paulo reports that police plan to disseminate the brochure to incoming soccer fans at next month’s tournament. It will include tips on how to avoid being robbed, such as tucking valuable jewelry out of sight, and more importantly how to confront a mugger.

“Do not react, scream or argue,” the guide reportedly advises tourists, who may not understand the immediate danger of the situation. Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 25 out of every 100,000 people killed or murdered, according to the U.N.

South African authorities issued similar warnings ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but crime actually fell precipitously during the tournament due to the heavy law enforcement presence. Brazil’s defense ministry is taking a page out of their book — deploying 30,000 troops along the country’s borders and around the grounds of the tournament, which will kick off in 12 cities starting June 12.

[Estadao de Sao Paulo]

TIME homicide

Boy Shoots Sister over Bleached Laundry, Family Says

Crime Scene
Denis Jr. Tangney / Getty Images

Mario Toliver, who family members said shot his sister Justice, fled from the scene

Family members of a 14-year-old boy in Oakland, Calif., are pleading for him to turn himself in to police after he allegedly shot his 17-year-old sister to death Thursday.

Justice Toliver was pronounced dead at the scene after being fatally wounded Thursday afternoon in the apartment she shared with her brother Mario, and their family, police said. Relatives said the boy was angry with his sister for bleaching his clothes. “Whatever it was about it shouldn’t get that serious to pick up a gun and kill his sister,” Gregory Stewart, 25, the siblings’ cousin told the San Jose Mercury News.

The victim was the mother of a 2-year-old child, family members said.

Mario Toliver fled the scene after the shooting and police have been searching for him since.

The victim’s father, Mario Toliver, Sr., spoke to reporters outside the family home, with tears streaming down his face. I’ve been there for them ever since they came out of the womb… I don’t understand, it’s just the streets. The devil is working all the time, devil’s working all the time.”

[San Jose Mercury News]

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