In 2012, Florida prison guards locked a schizophrenic inmate in a shower, turned on the blistering-hot water, and left him there for hours while he screamed and begged to be released. News of the death of Darren Rainey inside the Dade Correctional Institution outraged the nation, as did Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's decision not to charge the four involved guards following a five-year investigation.
In 2017, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party condemned Rundle's failure to prosecute the guards and called for her resignation "in light of this failure and a historical record of failing to prosecute law enforcement for on duty killings."
Now, the party is urging Rundle, a Democrat, to abandon her bid for reelection after 27 years as the county's top prosecutor.
During a meeting of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee last night, an "overwhelming majority" of voting members approved a resolution calling on Rundle to suspend her campaign, says William Byatt, the party's treasurer and author of the resolution.
The measure reiterates Miami-Dade Democrats' previous resolution seeking Rundle's resignation "if she cannot pursue justice for all victims of crime." The 2017 resolution slammed the state attorney for a pattern "in which she has repeatedly refused to hold law enforcement officials accountable for on-duty killings."
A spokesman for Rundle's campaign said in a statement that "while the state attorney sees heartbreaking cases every day, the United States Constitution requires evidence beyond all reasonable doubt to hold individuals accountable."
In regard to the Rainey case, the campaign pointed out that the medical examiner on the case concluded that the peeling on Rainey's body did not come from burns.
"This made it impossible to ethically move forward with a case," the campaign said in the statement. (Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie Brown obtained and published photos that forensic pathologists said indicate there were burns on Rainey's body.)
Rainey's case has received renewed attention ahead of the August 18 state attorney primary, as have other cases in which officers have been cleared in on-duty killings and use-of-force cases. Last month, New Times reported on a Miami-Dade police officer cleared in the shooting of a teenager while answering a call about a domestic disturbance. The officer apparently mistook his gun for his Taser and shot the teen in the lower back. Rundle's office concluded that even though the officer wasn't legally justified to shoot, there wasn't enough evidence to prove that he had committed a crime.
In next month's Democratic primary, Rundle is challenged by Melba Pearson, a progressive who served under Rundle in the prosecutor's office before moving on to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, where she served as deputy director until resigning to campaign for office.
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Byatt, the Miami-Dade Democrats treasurer, says the party's bylaws prohibit endorsing candidates in partisan races.
"The August 18 election date has critical local importance," Byatt says. "I would encourage everyone to be as informed as possible and ready to vote."
Statement from the Rundle campaign:
The Rainey case is really heartbreaking as the Medical Examiner who oversaw the case ruled no homicide was committed and that the peeling on the body were not burns. This made it impossible to ethically move forward with a case. While the state attorney sees heartbreaking cases every day, the United States Constitution requires evidence beyond all reasonable doubt to hold individuals accountable. With the over 500 police and correctional officers who have been charged with wrongdoings, the evidence in those cases met that standard. Furthermore, as a proud Democrat, the state attorney has led on important criminal justice reforms that ensure our community has a fair and equitable justice system. These reforms have become models for the state and nation, including launching the rocket-docket program to give former non-violent felons their right to vote. This is why she continues to have broad community support from across Miami-Dade County, including deep-rooted support from Democrats.