Controversial Top Cop of Florida's Prisons Steps Down

by | October 2, 2015 AT 11:16 AM

By Julie K. Brown

Jeffery Beasley, inspector general of Florida's Department of Corrections, said Thursday that he is stepping down to assume another role at the embattled agency.

His announcement comes after more than a year of widespread criticism and allegations by corrections officers, inspectors, sworn law enforcement officers and prisoners that he and others in his office failed to investigate, and in some cases, may have even thwarted, investigations into the suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in Florida state prisons.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with the Miami Herald Thursday, Beasley talked about everything from the accomplishments of his four-year tenure to the high-profile inmate deaths of Darren Rainey and Randall Jordan-Aparo. He hinted that the local, state and federal inquiries into their deaths would reveal no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Beasley, 41, also stated that he is not being "run out on a rail,'' but rather, elected voluntarily to move into a new role as head of the inspector general's intelligence division, which is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

"This is a phenomenal move and opportunity,'' Beasley said of his new post. "This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office.''

Secretary Julie Jones has not yet named a replacement for Beasley, who will continue as inspector general for a few more weeks. It's not clear what he will earn or how many people he will oversee in his new job.

The move comes at the same time that Melinda Miguel, Gov. Rick Scott's appointed chief inspector general, released the results of her probe into claims made by a handful of current and former FDC investigators, some of whom provided sworn testimony before a state Senate committee earlier this year. They alleged that Beasley directed them to back off criminal probes into wrongdoing in the agency, and when they failed to do so, placed them under bogus internal affairs investigations.

Miguel's report, released to the media by the Florida Department of Corrections on Wednesday, concluded that there was no "substantive evidence'' that Beasley had pressured staff to keep investigations in house rather than pursuing criminal charges against corrections officers, wardens and other staff suspected of breaking the law.

Her review, however, was not as thorough as possible because, she acknowledged, she was unable to come to an agreement with the officers, who asked that that their statements be recorded, as required by law, and witnessed by a criminal investigator with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The officers felt that they were being retaliated against because shortly after making their claims, both in a lawsuit and under oath before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, three of them were placed under internal investigation and moved out of the IG's office.

Pat Franklin, an expert on police procedure who specializes in law enforcement internal affairs investigations, said Miguel's investigation didn't prove -- or debunk -- anything.

"Quite simply, no independent investigative work has been done at all to either refute or corroborate the allegations made. They are simply relying upon the words and documents created by those who are accused of cover-ups or minimizing wrongdoing that came to their attention,'' Franklin said.

He also said that while the officers making the allegations provided statements under oath before the Senate, there's no evidence that Miguel, or anyone, made Beasley provide a sworn statement.

"For these officers to be in that position to be under oath and point the finger at their boss, that takes incredible courage, people don't lie under those conditions. There is no immunity for perjury," Franklin said.

Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, said he had heard that Beasley was stepping down, but wants to do "some investigating" before making a statement because Jones initially said that Beasley would remain in office.

Jones is scheduled to go before the committee on Monday, and will likely be questioned about Beasley.

"I'm thinking we've got a bunch of smoke and mirrors and I don't think that's what the Legislature intended," Evers said.

Beasley, whose salary is listed as $116,500, said the media has been mislead and has unfairly taken shots at him.

"When you look at what I've done -- yes, you can look at all the negatives -- but I'm proud to say there's a tremendous amount of accomplishment within the department,'' Beasley said.

Those accomplishments, he said, includes accreditation of the agency by the Florida Commission on Accreditation, which conducts rigorous reviews of law enforcement agencies across the state. It's the first time the Inspector General's Office of the prison system will be accredited, he said.

He also talked about how he inherited an outdated and understaffed department that handled more than 60,000 complaints in the past fiscal year with just 110 inspectors dedicated to investigating the complaints.

"We are not staffed to fully do an inquiry on every one of those complaints . . . it's not realistic with the manpower we have,'' he said.

What he did do, he said, was streamline and modernize technology that now enables the agency to better analyze and collect data so that, for example, problem officers will be better tracked.

He said the grievance system, the mechanism by which inmates report abuse and wrongdoing, has been improved by adding another mid-level layer of oversight whereby their complaints will not be discarded by the very officers they had been complaining about.

While he acknowledged that the agency failed to adequately handle cases involving the abuse of inmates who suffer from mental illness, he said that some of the cases written about by the Herald and other media were sensationalized.

The 2012 death of Rainey, a 50-year-old inmate at Dade Correctional Institution, remains under state and federal investigation. Rainey, who suffered from severe schizophrenia, was forced into a 180-degree shower by two corrections officers, allegedly to punish him for misbehaving. He was left there for nearly two hours, screaming and begging to be released. He was found dead, collapsed on the floor of the stall, with his skin slipping off his body.

Jordan-Aparo, a 27-year-old inmate at Franklin Correctional, died in 2010 -- before Beasley joined the department -- after he was repeatedly sprayed with chemicals. His death was initially ruled the result of natural causes, but two years later, inspectors found evidence that corrections officers falsified their reports and hid evidence that showed he had done nothing to warrant being sprayed, other than demand medical attention for a genetic blood disease that was making him ill.

Beasley, who was the IG when the Jordan-Aparo conclusions were called into question, said the deaths were not as the media have portrayed them.

"I don't think it's going to have a grand outcome that people think,'' Beasley said, adding later, on Rainey: "I cannot wait for you to see the final report on that. I cannot wait for that to be released. I can't wait for you to see the report.''

Even so, he said that there are some cases, such as the suicide of Richard Mair at Dade CI in 2014, that should have been investigated more thoroughly. Before he hanged himself, Mair sewed a note into his boxer shorts with the names of corrections officers he said had been torturing and physically and sexually abusing inmates in Dade's mental health unit.

"I'm not saying there is not some truth woven into that,'' Beasley said of inmates' claims they had been beaten and abused. "I'm not a Neanderthal cop, I'm a progressive. We are not here to punish people after they are incarcerated, but there is a divide between what we believe and what we can prove.''

Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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