An Uzbekistan refugee charged with conspiring with foreign terrorists accuses U.S. intelligence agents of using a “backdoor” strategy to violate his privacy rights and those of millions of people, including virtually every U.S. citizen who corresponds with anyone overseas.
Defendant Jamshid Muhtorov of Aurora filed a motion seeking to toss out evidence collected against him through warrantless wiretaps. He is also seeking to view wiretap evidence collected against him that has been sealed for national security reasons.
Muhtorov’s arguments could have far-reaching consequences, if, as he claims, federal intelligence agents are routinely violating Fourth Amendment privacy rights on a massive scale. Documents released by the government in Muhtorov’s case have, piece by piece, defined a previously secretive intelligence-gathering strategy.
Intelligence agents have routinely scanned millions of e-mail and phone communications of U.S. citizens, even though it is illegal to directly tap those contacts without a warrant, his motion says.
It should come as no surprise in the era of Edward Snowden that the U.S. military is keeping an eye on your social media habits, but the Defense Department is also funding Facebook-style behavioral experiments on you.
The Guardian reported Tuesday that DARPA, the Defense Department’s research arm, has given millions of dollars to projects that examine activity on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Pinterest, and other social networks as part of its Social Media in Strategic Communication program. According to the newspaper, one of the studies involved sending messages to users to gauge their responses. DARPA even looked at Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber’s Twitter accounts to determine how messages spread across the network.
The military also looked at Kickstarter projects. The potato salad crowdfunding campaign would actually make more sense if it turned out to be a government conspiracy.
In fall 2013, Seattle, WA, residents noticed mysterious white boxes installed on street corners throughout downtown Seattle. Their interest only grew when curious WiFi networks with the names of those street corners began to pop up on their mobile phones as available networks to connect to. The boxes and WiFi turned out to be a wireless mesh network set up by the city for emergency personnel to communicate in case of a disaster.
“Ultimately it’s designed to keep our community safe, to help out with criminal investigations and just to be a part of effective government,” says Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a public information officer with the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The network was paid for with a $2.7 million port security grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
But privacy advocates say the network may be capable of much more than its intended use, including tracking the location of Seattle residents. After the story broke in The Stranger newspaper, it was met with so much concern from the public that the SPD turned off the mesh network in November 2013 and promised to develop protocols for its use.
“Protocols would give the Seattle police the opportunity to show how they are going to use surveillance technology to protect people and show how they are going to protect their privacy,” says Brian Robick, senior policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
“The city council has asked that every single time you add something or change something that the police disclose it, and we’re still waiting for them to disclose what they are going to do with the base line, but without that we have no assurances of what they are going to add onto the network to change it to do other things,” says Robick.
Although it’s hard to predict what a city might do with newly acquired technology, the city’s 2012 Request for Proposal shows diagrams that would have given the Washington State Fusion Center a direct connection to the mesh network. The Washington State Fusion Center tries to stop major crimes and terrorist acts by collecting and analyzing massive amounts of data submitted by local law enforcement agencies like the SPD and federal agencies like DHS and the FBI.
“That has been a surprising bit of information to some of the folks we have spoken with in the city and the police department when we bring it up,” says Robick who points out that he doesn’t think it’s their intention to have that connection anymore.
“But I do think that it’s interesting that when cities are campaigning for grants that they build in additional information sharing and, in a way, barter the people’s privacy in order to get the funds to put up these systems.”
UPDATE: The city of Seattle has confirmed that the $2.7 million cost of the mesh network only covered equipment and services and after installation the total cost of the network was $4.4 million.
Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera by Alex Manning and Detrick. Music by Ergo Phizmiz and Podington Bear.
About 6:12 minutes.
German authorities are investigating the second case of a government employee suspected of spying on confidential government affairs for US secret services within a week.
Public prosecutors confirmed that the home and office of a defence ministry employee in the greater Berlin area had been searched on Wednesday morning.
They told the Guardian that a search had been conducted “under suspicion of secret agent activity” and that evidence – including computers and several data storage devices – had been seized for analysis. The federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that no arrest had yet been made.
According to Die Welt newspaper, the staffer being investigated is a soldier who had caught the attention of the German military counter-intelligence service after establishing regular contact with people thought to be working for a US secret agency.
The news came just days after a member of the German intelligence agency BND confessed to having passed more than 200 confidential files to a contact at the CIA.
The severe burning of a 19-month-old toddler could accomplish what the unnecessary killing of a 92-year-old woman couldn’t – reining in the use of no-knock warrants by SWAT teams in Georgia.
In 2006, an elderly Kathryn Johnston was gunned down by an Atlanta police SWAT team as she pulled out a rusty revolver to protect herself from what she thought were robbers breaking into her home in the middle of the night. It turned out that the police, looking for drugs, had raided the wrong house.
After that incident, two Georgia lawmakers, state Sens. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, and Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, introduced a bill in 2007 that would have set limits on the use of no-knock warrants. It passed the state Senate but died in the House.
Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh
Now, after another botched drug raid – this time in rural Habersham County in northeast Georgia, where a sheriff’s deputy threw a flash-bang grenade into a sleeping toddler’s crib – the two lawmakers are renewing their call for reform.
The toddler, Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, was released from the hospital Tuesday after more than five weeks of painful surgeries, including the re-attachment of his nose. He will be scarred for life, and he may also end up with brain damage, family members said.
WND was the first to report that the “intelligence” relied upon by Sheriff Joey Terrell came from a confidential criminal informant, who “assured” the sheriff that there would be no children in the home during the 3 a.m. raid.
When a no-knock warrant is issued, police do not have to conduct an arrest in the traditional way, by knocking on the front door and announcing their presence. They can simply storm in unannounced.
Fort, the Democrat senator, said he will introduce his bill restricting no-knock warrants as soon as the state Legislature reconvenes in January. He is optimistic it will pass this time. He cites the existence of a strong tea party presence among Georgia Republicans as the main reason for his optimism.
The tea party has joined the NAACP in a case of strange bedfellows rallying against no-knock warrants. Several protest rallies have been held. One such rally that should have gained the attention of Republican and Democrat lawmakers was held across from the Habersham County Courthouse on June 7, organized by a coalition of NAACP, libertarian and tea party activists.
Fort believes the cooperation between left and right will be key in turning the tide against the police and prosecutors, who lobbied hard in 2007 to defeat his bill in the State House.
“You have a tea party very interested in this issue. In 2007 you didn’t have a tea party, so the circumstances have changed and the continued use of these no-knock warrants and the abuse of them and the perception that something should have been done about this a long time ago and more people are unnecessarily being harmed and killed, I’m optimistic we’re going to be successful this time. It will take a lot of work, but it’s time.”
Fort said neither he nor Mullis wants to eliminate no-knock warrants. Rather, they want tighter restrictions put in place. He said the combination of military-grade weaponry now common at all police agencies with no-knock warrants is a “recipe for disaster” that must be addressed before more innocent people get killed or maimed.
In Clayton County, Georgia, a pregnant woman was injured by a flash-bang grenade during a 2010 police raid.
“Right now there is nothing codified, no statute that regulates no knock warrants. It’s all case law,” Fort said. “There’s nothing in the code that regulates them. So my bill would, one, define them but more important it would place restraints on their use.”
Fort said there are three levels of evidence with “clear and convincing” being the highest standard and “reasonable suspicion” the lowest. In between is what’s known as “probable cause,” the standard Fort wants to see clearly demonstrated before any no-knock warrant is issued by a judge in Georgia.
He said the bill may also include some protocols or requirements that police and sheriff’s departments must have in place, such as minimum levels of training for those who serve no-knock warrants.
“But the core issue for me is making sure there is a criteria that magistrates have to use,” he said.
The chief magistrate in Habersham who approved the no-knock warrant that led to the injuries to little Bou Bou has announced he will resign effective July 15.
“These no-knock warrants are used to protect law enforcement when they go into a house and when they believe there’s going to be evidence lost or destroyed. What’s happened is they have become too common. They were supposed to be special warrants reserved for special circumstances, and now they’re routinely issued by judges,” Fort said. “I think under my bill they would be issued sparingly and only when they are truly needed.”
But the problem of judges issuing no-knock warrants for SWAT raids as a matter of routine is not just a Georgia problem, criminal justice experts say.
The number of house raids by SWAT teams across the U.S. has increased from about 3,000 in 1980 to upwards of 80,000 last year, said Peter Kraska, professor of criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University and author of the book “Militarizing The American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police.”
Kraska said the alternative media and even some mainstream media are starting to do a better job of exposing the budding American police state, but there’s still a long way to go.
“I think it’s pretty telling that the Georgia case didn’t receive national attention, and when it did, it was the damn sheriff talking about how devastated his officers were. That’s just outrageous,” Kraska said. “What possible justification could anybody come up with for using that extreme method of policing on a private residence? They used a Navy SEALs approach for busting someone who (they thought) smokes a little marijuana or meth. It just makes no sense. But the sheriff said his officers felt bad.”
In the end, the 3 a.m. raid in Habersham County turned up no drugs or guns. The target of the raid was not there. He was arrested several hours later at another house and only charged with drug possession, not sales.
“The presence of a small-time drug dealer in the house should not even matter when deciding to use such force on a residential household,” Kraska said. “The fact that it was used can only be seen as reckless by any rational analysis of what happened in Habersham County.”
Cheryl Chumley, author of the new book “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming Our Realty,” agrees and said the state appears to be dragging its feet in an ongoing investigation of the police action May 28 in Habersham County.
“It’s unbelievable that this family would have to suffer this at the hands of the very people who are tasked with serving and protecting the public – the police,” said Chumley.
She called the fact that the investigation is still going on after a month “unbelievable.”
“Five weeks,” she said, “is a long time – time enough for a toddler to be blown up, placed in a coma, undergo numerous operations and surgeries, receive untold number of medical tests and analyses, make a miraculous recovery, get discharged, and no doubt be scheduled for a slew of follow-up appointments – at medical facilities hundreds of miles from the place of incident, no less – yet it’s not long enough, apparently, for the police to come to some sort of finding of fault.”
Chumley said the officers involved should be held accountable.
“When over-hyped, overly aggressive police make an error that injures or kills, the least the American public – the taxpaying source of police paychecks – ought to be given is a quick and speedy resolution that reflects true accountability,” she said. “And accountability in this particular case demands, at minimum, the at-fault officers be fired.”
Supporters of the Phonesavanh family held a benefit breakfast Wednesday at an Atlanta restaurant to raise money for mounting medical bills.
The family had moved to Georgia from Wisconsin about a month before the police raid because their home in Wisconsin had burned down. They have steadfastly denied any involvement with drugs, saying they don’t use or sell them or allow anyone around their children who does.
Read more WND
As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.
As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.
Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.
From the ACLU of Massachusetts’s report on police militarization in that state:
Approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to an LEC. While set up as “corporations,” LECs are funded by local and federal taxpayer money, are composed exclusively of public police officers and sheriffs, and carry out traditional law enforcement functions through specialized units such as SWAT teams . . .
Due to the weakness of Massachusetts public records law and the culture of secrecy that has infected local police departments and Law Enforcement Councils, procuring empirical records from police departments and regional SWAT teams in Massachusetts about police militarization was universally difficult and, in most instances, impossible . . .
Police departments and regional SWAT teams are public institutions, working with public money, meant to protect and serve the public’s interest. If these institutions do not maintain and make public comprehensive and comprehensible documents pertaining to their operations and tactics, the people cannot judge whether officials are acting appropriately or make needed policy changes when problems arise . . .
Hiding behind the argument that they are private corporations not subject to the public records laws, the LECs have refused to provide documents regarding their SWAT team policies and procedures. They have also failed to disclose anything about their operations, including how many raids they have executed or for what purpose . . .
METROLEC, one of the largest of the law enforcement councils covering the metropolitan Boston area, operates a range of specialized resources, including a Canine Unit, Computer Crimes Unit, Crisis Negotiation Team, Mobile Operations Motorcycle Unit, and Regional Response Team, in addition to its SWAT force. The organization maintains its own BearCat armored vehicle, as well as a $700,000 state of the art command and control post. In 2012, METROLEC reportedly used its BearCat 26 times, mostly for drug busts, and applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain a drone license.
The North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) similarly operates a SWAT team, as well as a Computer Crime Unit, Motorcycle Unit, School Threat Assessment & Response System, and Regional Communications and Incident Management Assistance Team. Its SWAT team members are trained and equipped to “deal with active shooters, armed barricaded subjects, hostage takers and terrorists,” and they dress in military-style gear with the words “NEMLEC SWAT” emblazoned on their uniforms. Given this training, it is not surprising that the NEMLEC SWAT team has over the past decade led numerous operations that involved armored vehicles, flash-bang devices, and automatic weapons.
(Note: In addition to the LEC SWAT teams, the ACLU notes that at least 25 other Massachusetts cities and towns have their own SWAT-like units, along with the state police and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.)
Massachusetts also has a long history of accountability and excessive force problems with SWAT teams. A few examples:
- In 1988, Boston Det. Sherman Griffiths was killed in a botched drug raid later revealed to have been conducted based on information from an informant a subsequent investigation revealed that the police had simply made up.
- Six years later, the Rev. Accelyne Williams died of a heart attack during a mistaken drug raid on his home. The Boston Globe found that three of the officers involved in that raid had been accused in a 1989 civil rights suit of using fictional informants to obtain warrants for drug raids. In testimony for that suit, one witness testified that after realizing they’d just raided the wrong home, a Boston police officer shrugged, apologized and said, “This happens all the time.” The city settled with the plaintiffs.
- In 1996, the Fitchburg SWAT team was already facing a lawsuit for harassing a group of loiterers when it burned down an apartment complex during a botched drug raid. The SWAT team subsequently faced a number of other allegations of recklessness and misconduct.
- In January 2011, a SWAT team raided the Framingham, Mass., home of 68-year-old Eurie Stamps at around midnight on a drug warrant. Oddly, it had already arrested the subject of the warrant — Stamps’s 20-year-old stepson — outside the house. But because he lived in Stamps’s home, the team went ahead with the raid anyway. When the team encountered Stamps, it instructed him to lie on the floor. He complied. According to the police account, as one officer then moved toward Stamps to check for weapons, he lost his balance and fell. As he fell, his weapon discharged, sending a bullet directly into Stamps’s chest, killing him.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney for the Massachusetts ACLU, told me in a phone interview. “The same government authority that allows them to carry weapons, make arrests, and break down the doors of Massachusetts residents during dangerous raids also makes them a government agency that is subject to the open records law.”
In some states, police agencies can claim exemptions from open records legislation for certain types of requests, such as for internal personnel files, or investigation documents that could reveal the identities of witnesses or informants. In some parts of the country, like the Virginia suburbs of Washington, police agencies have broadly interpreted open records laws to allow them to turn down just about every request. But this claim in Massachusetts is on a whole different scale.
“They didn’t even attempt to claim an exception,” Rossman says. “They’re simply asserting that they’re private corporations.”
The ACLU is suing five Massachusetts LECS. The press release announcing the suit specifically names NEMLEC. It’s worth noting that in addition to receiving taxpayer funding from its 51 member police agencies, NEMLEC has also received significant federal funding over the years, particularly from the Byrne Grant program. In fact, just last April, NEMLEC made a series of drug busts across the state in an investigation funded at least in part with Byrne Grants. (NEMLEC seems to be involved in a lot of drug raids.) In 2010, NEMLEC received an $800,000 Byrne Grant earmarked by then-Sen. John F. Kerry.
Interestingly, in 2009, NEMLEC had to pay out $200,000 “to settle allegations that it made false claims related to the use of Justice Department grant funds” — specifically, funds obtained through the Byrne Grant program. That sounds like an agency that could use a little oversight.
Read the rest at Washington Post
- Kari Edwards has shared a video that she claims shows a SWAT team storming her Florida home on June 10 in an early-morning raid
- She said agents grabbed the towel off her and forced her into handcuffs
- The agents suggested the incident related to “child porn” but they did not seize any of their electronics, she said
- She shared images of the damage she says agents inflicted on the home
- DHS has not commented on her claims
A woman has claimed that she was forced to strip naked at gunpoint when Department of Homeland Security officials inexplicably raided her Florida home at dawn – and left with nothing.
Kari Edwards posted surveillance footage on YouTube that she claims shows the 6am raid on her house in Homestead on June 10, as well as images showing the officers inflicted on her property.
She says the footage shows a SWAT team swooping in as a helicopter hovered overhead, before they smashed in her front door and deafened her cat with smoke grenades.
The Department of Homeland Security has not responded to MailOnline’s requests for comment.
‘Armed men… demanded that I drop the towel I was covering my naked body with before snatching it off of me physically and throwing me to the ground,’ she wrote. ‘According to my boyfriend, the agent with his assault rifle to my back kept eying me up and down like I was eye candy.’
Edwards, who said she had previously worked for the DHS but has been disabled since 2006, recognized some of the agents as working for the federal agency and asked them for ID.
‘The agent pointed at his uniform that read POLICE and said “Isn’t this ID enough for you?”,’ she wrote. ‘When I told him I could buy that up in Miami he called me retarded and said I was f***ing stupid.’
She added to PoliceStateUSA.com that she saw ‘ICE’, ‘Gang Task Force’ and ‘Special Agent’ on the men’s shirts.
She said that she was put in handcuffs that were so tight ‘I could not feel my hands’ and said that agents refused to cover her body, even though she repeatedly asked.
The video is about 20 minutes long, but she claimed that the raid went on for two hours.
‘My boyfriend, who is asthmatic, started having trouble breathing due to the lingering smoke created by the flash bang grenade,’ she said, and agents helped him find his inhaler.
The team eventually handed her a warrant signed by Jonathan Goodman, a federal magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, she said.
Images shared on Facebook shows burn marks on the ground of her home from the grenade, as well as damaged door frames, smashed shower doors and even a smashed sculpture.
Edwards said the incident was ‘two hours of pure hell’ and she has filed complaints with authorities.
‘After filing complaints with the FBI, DHS-OIG, ACLU and the White House as well as calling the chambers of Judge Jonathan Goodman, I still have no answers as of yet,’ she wrote on Facebook.
It is hard to believe but Federal agencies are not supposed to be able to create new laws at whim and require the American people to obey them. There is a procedure set out that allows proposed rules to be reviewed and commented upon.
According to the blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses more than 700 full-body imaging scanners in 160 airports nationwide. In addition to the empirical evidence that shows they don’t actually make us safer and the questions on the intrusion of traveler privacy, the TSA is violating the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Next Tuesday, June 24, marks the one-year anniversary of the public comment deadline on body scanners and the TSA is still failing to comply with federal law and a federal court’s order.
Why is this important to the average citizen? The TSA’s scanners inconvenience travelers, provide few if any safety benefits, and face high deployment costs. The limited data available suggest body scanners are a completely inappropriate airport security tool and should be scrapped in favor of more effective and less intrusive security measures. Given this, the TSA’s thumbing its nose at the rule of law is especially troubling.
The Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies create regulations like airport body-scanners, states that agencies must publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register and solicit public comments before promulgating a rule. TSA failed to do this and has been flouting the law for years.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and then the Competitive Enterprise Institute have taken the TSA to court to force them to comply with the law. The court ordered the TSA to publish a rule for public comment. The TSA did not obey this request.
On March 26, 2013, the TSA finally proposes their rule and opens the required comment period. However, it fails to comply with the court’s order to produce a legislative rule governing the use of body scanners in airports. Instead, the TSA proposes a brief, open-ended amendment to their screening regulations that essentially states the TSA might have body scanners and, if it does, it may use them. This is a far cry from the legislative rule the court ordered to be produced in 2011, a rule that should have included details related to the rights and obligations of affected parties. The TSA also fails to justify their rule on benefit-cost and risk-based grounds and classifies other supposed justifications for no apparent reason.
Of course the real problem here is that practically no one has the power to rein in these Federal bureaucracies. The law is simply not enforced when it comes to them. Court cases take years and then, if the Federal agency ignores the court, the only recourse is to take them to court again. The TSA can do what it wants, and the TSA knows it.
Read more at Political Outcast
Darren Rainey, who died after being placed in excruciatingly hot shower by guards as punishment Florida Department of Corrections
The purported details of Darren Rainey’s last hour are difficult to read.
“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’’ he screamed over and over, according to a grievance complaint from a fellow inmate, as Rainey was allegedly locked in a shower with the scalding water turned on full blast.
A 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution, Rainey was pulled into the locked shower by prison guards as punishment after defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up, said the fellow inmate, who worked as an orderly. He was left there unattended for more than an hour as the narrow chamber filled with steam and water.
When guards finally checked on prisoner 060954, 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.
But nearly two years after Rainey’s death on June 23, 2012, the Miami-Dade medical examiner has yet to complete an autopsy and Miami-Dade police have not charged anyone. The Florida Department of Corrections halted its probe into the matter, saying it could be restarted if the autopsy and police investigation unearth new information.
“They told people that he had a heart attack,’’ said a source close to the prison system with knowledge of the case.
The shower treatment was only one form of punishment inflicted by the prison’s guards to keep mentally ill patients in line, according to the inmate/orderly and two other sources privy to the goings-on at the state prison.
The inmate/orderly, a convicted burglar named Harold Hempstead serving a decades-long sentence, filed repeated formal complaints, beginning in January 2013, with the DOC inspector general, alleging that prison guards subjected inmates — housed in the mental health unit — to extreme physical abuse and withheld food from some who became unruly. The complaints were sent back, most with a short, type-written note saying the appeal was being returned “without action” or had already been addressed.
In September, another inmate was found dead inside his cell. Richard Mair, 40, hanged himself from an air conditioning vent.
According to the police report, Mair left a suicide note in his boxer shorts claiming he and other prisoners were sexually and physically abused on a routine basis by guards.
DOC officials declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokeswoman said Friday that the agency would provide public records in response to the newspaper’s formal written requests, but no comments.
Over the past several weeks, the newspaper has requested maintenance records, grievance logs, prison death records, guards’ disciplinary records and emails by administrators, including DCI Warden Jerry Cummings.
As of Friday, the agency had released a handful of documents: a single report about a prison guard admonished for falling asleep on duty last year; brief, coded disciplinary records for Hempstead, Rainey and several other inmates who Hempstead says were also subjected to searing hot showers as punishment; and a heavily redacted copy of the DOC inspector general’s report on Rainey’s death.
On Friday, the Herald learned from three independent sources that Cummings and four of his top aides had been temporarily relieved of duty last week.
It’s not clear why Cummings and other administrators were suspended, or for how long.
The DOC did not respond to an email query about the suspensions late Friday.
Rainey’s family, meanwhile, finds the silence surrounding his death disturbing.
“Two years is a very long time to wait to find out why your brother was found dead in a shower,’’ said Rainey’s brother, Andre Chapman.
Rainey, who was serving a two-year sentence for possession of cocaine, was scheduled to be released in July.
Between January and February 2013, Hempstead filed numerous grievances and complaints with DOC officials about Rainey’s death, all alleging that the circumstances were being covered up.
His reports, replete with the names of other inmate witnesses and prison guards on duty that evening, describe what he and others purportedly saw and heard that night. The details in his complaints match the wording in the inspector general’s report — at least the parts not redacted.
The inspector general’s report said that the video camera in the shower area showed DOC officer Roland Clarke place Rainey in the shower at 7:38 p.m.
Hempstead said the shower had sufficient room for an inmate to avoid a direct hit from the spray, but that the extreme heat would eventually make the air unbreathable as the scalding water lapped at inmates’ feet.
Hempstead wrote that he and other inmates, whose cells are directly below the shower, began hearing Rainey’s screams about 8:55 p.m. It went on for about 30 minutes before it sounded like he fell to the shower floor, he said in his complaint.
The DOC inspector general’s report said Clarke found Rainey dead at 9:30 p.m. and called for medical assistance.
“I then seen [sic] his burnt dead body naked body go about two feet from my cell door on a stretcher,’’ Hempstead wrote.
Miami-Dade homicide investigators were called to the prison.
But another inmate, a convicted murderer named Mark Joiner, wrote in a letter to the inspector general that he was ordered to “clean up the crime scene’’ prior to the area being secured.
Early in the week after the incident, maintenance workers at the prison disabled the plumbing that fed the shower, Hempstead told the Herald in an interview at the prison.
Despite all his written complaints, Hempstead was never interviewed by anyone from the prison system, he said. Another inmate was spoken to, according to the report. That’s presumably Joiner, although the DOC will not divulge the name. The Herald is waiting for a transcript of that interview, which DOC officials said would be redacted of any information pertaining to an open criminal investigation.
As for the video camera in the shower area, the inspector general’s report noted that it malfunctioned right after Clarke put Rainey in the shower. As a result, the disc that may have recorded what happened was “damaged,’’ the report said.
The redacted report doesn’t say how Rainey’s body was found, whether the water was on or off when he was found or whether state investigators ever questioned any of the guards or nurses in the unit at the time of Rainey’s death.
The union that represents the prison guards was not aware of the incident as of this past week. No record was provided to the Herald to indicate that anyone has been held accountable for what happened.
A suicide note
Mair was found hanging in his cell on Sept. 11, 2013. A braided rope, made from cut sections of bed sheets, was attached to the ceiling air vent and looped around his neck, according to a Miami-Dade police report.
Tucked into a pocket sewed into his boxer shorts was a suicide note in which Mair, serving life for second-degree murder, described a litany of abuses against inmates in the mental health unit.
“Life sucks and then you die, but just before I go, I’m going to expose everyone for who and what they are,’’ he wrote.
“I’m in a mental health facility…I’m supposed to be getting help for my depression, suicidal tendencies and I was sexually assaulted.’’
He then goes on to allege that guards forced inmates in the unit to perform sex acts and threatened them if they filed complaints.
He said guards — identified by name in the note — gambled on duty, sold marijuana and cigarettes, and stole money and property belonging to inmates.
“If they didn’t like you, they put you on a starvation diet,’’ he wrote.
He also alleged that guards encouraged racial hatred by forcing white and black inmates to fight each other in the yard, claiming that the guards would place bets on who would win.
Mair’s next of kin was in prison in Maine and unavailable for comment.
There’s no evidence that the state inspector general’s probe into Mair’s death addressed any of the allegations in the suicide note.
The probe concluded that guards had been negligent in failing to adequately check on Mair the evening he killed himself.
Les Cantrell, state coordinator for Teamsters Local 2011 — the union representing the state’s 17,000 corrections and probation officers — said there has been a spike in prison complaints across the state. Employee turnover is staggering, he said, particularly among prison guards who are often forced to work long hours to compensate for officers they have lost and failed to replace.
“In general, we have a difficult time retaining good officers,’’ Cantrell said. “Assaults on officers have risen and inmates know they are short-staffed.
“It makes it unsafe for the officers and for the inmates,’’ he said.
The six-page inspector general’s investigation into Rainey’s death was completed in October 2012. DOC Inspector General Jeffrey Beasley closed the case, concluding there was not enough information to issue any finding.
“…the exact cause of death has not been determined by the Medical Examiner. Upon receipt of the autopsy report, it will be included in the investigative file,’’ the report said, noting that if “administrative matters” subsequently arise as a result of the autopsy, they will be addressed at a future time.
The report, which includes brief written statements by Clarke as well as other guards and nurses, has large passages that have been redacted — obscured with a black marker.
The Department of Corrections has not responded to requests from the Herald to provide the legal justification for each redaction, as required under the state’s public records law.
After Hempstead was interviewed at the prison by a Herald journalist on April 14, Miami-Dade homicide investigators also paid him a visit to interview him about the two-year-old case, he wrote in a letter emailed to Gov. Rick Scott last week through a family member.
According to the letter, three corrections officers, including a sergeant, responded to the visits by threatening to set him up with false disciplinary reports and to place him in solitary confinement if he didn’t stop talking to the media and police.
He said he feared for his safety and wanted to be relocated to a different prison.
Last week, the Herald sought clearance to speak with Hempstead in the prison a second time after receiving a letter from him authorizing the return visit.
Jessica Carey, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, responded that Hempstead “had a custody classification which prohibits interviews at this time.’’
When pressed further about whether he was being punished, Carey said she had made “a mistake’’ and directed a Herald reporter to fill out a visitation form.
Neither Miami-Dade police nor the Miami-Dade medical examiner responded to requests for information about the Rainey case. Each say his death is still an open investigation, but did not address why it has taken almost two years.
- Grievance from inmate Harold Hempstead describing the death of Darren Rainey
- Inspector General report on Rainey’s death
Businessman upset about Tampa Police search of his truck
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) –
“You think if anyone is going to break into your vehicle in Ybor, the last person you think, it’s going to be the cops.”
Matthew Heller didn’t know what to think when he found his truck ransacked and torn apart after leaving a concert in Ybor in February. Then, he found a note.
“There’s a little note left on a 2×3 piece of paper,” said Heller.
The note read “Sir, your car was checked by TPD K-9. The vehicle was searched for marijuana due to a strong odor coming from the passenger side of the vehicle. Any questions call Cpl Fanning.”
TPD found no drugs in Heller’s truck. He was never charged or even questioned.
“It was all sealed up, a parked vehicle in a private parking lot for a hip hop concert in Ybor. There were all kinds of smells, everywhere around here,” said Heller.
Heller says he wasn’t upset about the fact that police searched his truck, but that they broke in and damaged his vehicle.
“Disgusted, I’ve got my whole life savings in this truck. It’s like a marketing tool for my business to promote the air horns and everything. The horns weren’t working, all the electronics were ripped out,” said Heller.
News Channel 8 reached out to TPD to ask about the search and we were told by email, “While the search is legal, it is not typical. The Tampa Police Department is now reviewing the specifics of this investigation.”
Heller said he and his attorney have asked TPD for documentation of the search but he has not heard back. While TPD claims the search was legal, attorney Bryant Camareno doesn’t agree.
“It’s an illegal search,” Camareno said. “Usually if it’s some kind of unoccupied vehicle there has to be some level of exigent circumstance to justify searching a vehicle without a search warrant. Exigent could mean if there is a dead body inside, if there is a screaming child locked in the car, a dog but if the car is unoccupied there is no exigency to justify the search.”
“I am out for the damages and my time but mostly I’m scratching my head and kind of confused with everything. I had no clue this was something that could happen,”said Heller.