In March, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle decided not to charge four state prison guards who oversaw the death of Darren Rainey, a black prisoner with severe schizophrenia who multiple witnesses said had been placed in a scalding-hot prison shower and burned to death. Rainey had been serving a nonviolent cocaine-possession sentence.
Rundle faced harsh national backlash over the decision. And now her own hometown political party has said it no longer supports her. Tonight the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) formally passed a resolution asking Rundle to step down. The measure is nonbinding, but it represents a serious referendum on Rundle's 24-year legacy as Miami's top prosecutor.
The resolution "urges Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to resign from office if she cannot pursue justice for all victims of crime, including the most vulnerable. The Miami-Dade DEC strongly condemns the State Attorney's Office's decision not to bring charges against the officers who locked Mr. Rainey in a hot shower for two hours resulting in his death, and the jail's supervisors, who failed to report the crime."
Rainey died in 2012, and Rundle's office previously closed the case quickly. But after Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown published a George Polk Award-winning series detailing numerous cases of torture and murder within the state prison system, including the Rainey case, Rundle reopened the file. But after years of investigation, she elected to do nothing about it.
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner has claimed there were no burns on Rainey's body when he died. But Brown has since published photographic evidence that independent doctors say show burns on Rainey's back and chest. And multiple independent examiners Brown spoke with have cast serious doubt on the medical examiner's findings, as well as Rundle's report clearing the four prison guards of wrongdoing.
Tonight's vote complicates Rundle's plans for the future. Last month, Politico reported that Rundle was floating a run for higher office, possibly governor. She has been Miami's top prosecutor since 1993, when she took over for then-State Attorney Janet Reno, who left to join President Bill Clinton's administration.
In that time, Rundle has faced criticism for her reluctance to prosecute cops and other state employees who kill people on the job, and for sending scores of child offenders to adult prison. In her 24 years in office, she has never charged an on-duty police officer for killing someone, despite scores upon scores of cases in which it appears charges could have been brought. A New Times investigation published last week detailed how her office also routinely sits for years on investigations into killings by police, imperiling a family's ability to file a civilrights lawsuit and seek restitution.
Tonight's DEC vote mirrored the kind of critique she might face during her next reelection bid.
The resolution passed via voice vote at tonight's monthly DEC meeting. At last month's meeting on May 30, Rundle tried to defend herself by relitigating the case in front of more than 120 attendees — and was then caught blatantly lying to the public. At that meeting, Rundle said she had "convicted" more than 300 officers during her tenure — but that number turned out to be false. The Herald reported that Rundle, a seasoned prosecutor, had "confused" the terms "prosecuted" and "convicted." Elsewhere, the Herald noted multiple misleading or outright false claims she and her team made about the Rainey case in front of Miami's Democrats.
But last month, the party failed to reach a voting quorum of members and could not formally pass the resolution. Tonight an unchanged version finally passed.
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Here's the resolution's author, local civil rights attorney Erica Selig, reading from the resolution last month:
Selig now reading from text of resolution asking Rundle to resign. Has not been voted on/approved by committee. pic.twitter.com/HryHeh0OD4— Jerry Iannelli (@jerryiannelli) May 31, 2017
A spokesperson for Rundle didn't immediately respond to New Times' request for comment on the resolution passing.