Longtime Miami prosecutor faces criticism after failing to prosecute corrections officers
After almost a quarter century in the job, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is facing criticism like never before.
Her decision to not seek charges against corrections officers for the death of a mentally ill inmate who was locked in a scalding hot shower for 90 minutes has enraged the community and created doubt on how much longer Rundle will be the chief elected prosecutor.
Darren Rainey, 50, who suffered from severe mental illness, smeared feces on himself at the Dade Correctional Institute in June 2012, and guards responded by locking him in the shower. Before he died, other inmates said he was screaming for mercy.
According to the Miami Herald when guards came into the shower to check on Rainey he was on his back and dead. “His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.”
It has also been reported that the shower had been used to punish other inmates and keep them in line.
An autopsy report found the death to be accidental, a finding that has been widely criticized. But Rundle has declined to bring charges against any of the corrections officers working that day.
That decision has prompted a backlash against Miami’s longest serving public official. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party considered passing several resolutions condemning Rundle, with one calling for her resignation.
No resolution passed because there were not enough Democratic Party officials at the meeting to form a quorum. But the meeting was packed with people angry at the decision and critical of Rundle, with many saying she had failed to hold police officers accountable.
Rundle defended herself at the forum, arguing that the Medical Examiner did not believe Rainey’s death was a homicide, and that proving a crime had been committed would be impossible when the medical examiner’s report argued otherwise. She also said the public’s concern about the case was a “mob mentality.”
But two other medical examiners who examined the case at the request of the Miami Herald disagreed with the findings of Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Emma Lew, and argued that the burns were severe enough on Rainey’s body that his death was not an accident. According to the Herald those medical examiners “believe that his injuries showed that he was scalded prior to his death.”
The criticism is shocking for Rundle, the first female Hispanic state attorney in Florida and someone who has racked up impressive reelection margins when she’s been challenged.
The state attorney has also started indicating she may run for governor of Florida, although if she did she’d likely have fences to mend with Democrats she’d need to win the primary. And Rundle is continuing to generate controversy by blocking critics on Twitter.
Rundle became State Attorney in 1993. She was appointed to the position by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles after her predecessor, Janet Reno, became the U.S. Attorney General.
Rundle has been reelected seven times. She was last elected in 2016 with no opposition.
Rundle is 67 and will be 70 when her current term expires in 2020. And if she chooses to run again, a strong Democratic challenger will likely be waiting for her.
By 2020 Rundle will have been the chief elected prosecutor of Miami-Dade for 27 years. The views of criminal justice have changed radically in that time, and the elected state attorneys in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville were all thrown out of office by voters in 2016 and replaced by people who seemed more in tune with criminal justice reform efforts sweeping the country.
But no matter what happens, it is now highly unlikely that anyone will ever answer for what happened to Darren Rainey. That will be part of Rundle’s legacy, not matter how much longer she serves in her current position.