Miami-Dade Democrats Debate Asking State Attorney to Resign Following Darren Rainey Verdict
Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office

Miami-Dade Democrats Debate Asking State Attorney to Resign Following Darren Rainey Verdict

Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced last month that her office would not charge four prison guards who oversaw the death of Darren Rainey, a black inmate with schizophrenia who was thrown inside a scalding-hot shower for close to two hours and died inside. The public was outraged: Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown won the George Polk Award for exposing what many alleged to be a plot to cover up Rainey's death. She interviewed witnesses who said Rainey's skin had been burned off his body.

Even members of Rundle's own party say they're upset. According to a draft resolution that New Times obtained, the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party is mulling a formal resolution asking Rundle to step down after 24 years in office. The resolution, which was written by the party's Civil Rights & Social Justice Committee, has not yet been passed and does not represent the party's official position. The party will hold an Executive Committee meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, where the measure's authors say they intend to ask the rest of the party to vote on whether to censure Rundle.

"The Miami-Dade DEC strongly condemns the State Attorney’s Office stalled and incomplete investigation of Darren Rainey’s death, and therefore urges Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to resign from office if she cannot pursue justice for all victims of crime, including the most vulnerable," the draft ordinance reads.

A spokesperson for the state attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There's ongoing debate within the party, however, over whether the text goes too far, or whether the party ought to formally censure one of its own elected members. Juan Cuba, the Dade party chair, tells New Times that the party is currently debating how to best move forward after the state attorney issued her memo closing the case.

"The membership base of the Democratic Party is extremely upset with State Attorney’s decision not to bring charges on the Darren Rainey case," Cuba said. "We agree there should have been charges brought, and we are going to meet with the State Attorney to discuss the case. But there is a process for these resolutions to be heard and voted on, we will go through that process tonight and over the next couple of weeks."

But multiple party members, who spoke to New Times on a condition of anonymity, said the resolution has been forced through an increasingly long series of hoops before a full vote. Several people said they're worried that Rundle-aligned party members are pushing to table the ordinance indefinitely. If passed, the measure would be purely symbolic.

But Cuba says the party agrees that something ought to be said about Rundle's decision. Four weeks ago, Cuba, who hosts his own podcast, conducted a 45-minute long interview about the case with multiple criminal-justice advocates. He wrote online last month that "Too many things in the State Attorney close-out memo just don’t add up," and asked that the state attorney conduct some sort of public forum to discuss her decision-making.

"The State Attorney should have brought Manslaughter charges," Cuba wrote. "Even though it would be a tough case to win, it’s about trust in a system that will pursue justice always."

Cuba directed the party's Civil Rights committee co-chair, lawyer Erica Selig, to draft an ordinance pertaining to the Rainey verdict. But once Selig wrote that ordinance, it passed through a series of subcommittee votes, including a non-binding vote conducted without a quorum. That symbolic vote was intended to push party leaders to put the measure up for a full vote at tonight's Democratic Executive Committee meeting. But the party's leadership declined to put the item on tonight's agenda.

"Generally, people agree that there should have been charges brought," Cuba tells New Times. "How to handle it, or how to move forward, is, I think, the only disagreement on that."

The Miami-Dade County People's Progressive Caucus, the farthest-left body within the county party, issued a statement in March "vehemently condemning" the Rainey decision.

"Katherine Fernandez Rundle has largely remained unscathed by her awful record," that statement reads. "She has been in office since 1993 and usually runs unopposed for reelection. As members of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and by extension the Florida Democratic Party, the Progressive Caucus is disturbed to have in our ranks a police brutality enabler and apologist."

In Rundle's 24 years as the top county prosecutor, she had not charged a cop for an on-duty shooting until this month, when she charged North Miami cop Jonathan Aledda for shooting Charles Kinsey, an unarmed behavioral therapist attempting to help an autistic man. Some have speculated whether the Aledda charges were some sort of make-up for the Rainey verdict.

Party members can also call resolutions for a vote from the floor at any Executive Committee meeting, but without the measure formally on the agenda tonight, there is no guarantee the party will vote on the item. Selig, who wrote the ordinance, and her subcommittee co-chair, Eric Bason, sent out an email to the entire party at 10 a.m. this morning, stating that they intend to push forward and propose the measure from the floor later this evening:

Dear Fellow DEC Member:

Attached please find a draft resolution prepared by the Civil Rights & Social Justice Committee of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

The draft resolution concerns State Attorney Rundle's failure to bring charges in the Darren Rainey case and, also, her refusal to bring charges against any officers for on-duty killings during her 24-year career.

If you are unfamiliar with the case, here is a recent article on it: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-fla-inmate-found-dead-shower-held-accountable-article-1.3003358

A longer version of this resolution has been tabled by the Steering Committee and, while it passed through the Issues Committee (by a nonbinding vote), it didn't make it onto the DEC agenda today so we intend to bring this resolution on the floor to the general membership in order to discuss it and vote.

Sincerely,

Erica Selig and Eric Bason
Co-Chairs of the Social Justice Committee

"With this resolution, we want to send the strongest message possible that this behavior is unacceptable from any elected politician, let alone a Democrat," Selig told New Times today by phone.

The rest of the ordinance condemns Rundle for enabling abusive law-enforcement officials in the county.

"Mr. Rainey’s death shocked the conscience of Miami-Dade County and the entire country," the draft letter reads. "Katherine Fernandez-Rundle’s inaction does not represent the values of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party supports the dignity of all people, including prisoners in the state’s care. Her failure to hold anyone accountable for Mr. Rainey’s death places the most vulnerable prisoners at risk for more abuse."

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