The Florida Department of Law Enforcement plans to investigate the deaths of two female prisoners and two others at Lowell Correctional Institution after allegations of cruelty were levied against prison guards.
Latandra Ellington, 36, died on Oct. 1, just 10 days after she wrote a disturbing letter to her aunt claiming she feared she’d never get out alive. Ellington’s family told the Miami Herald that Ellington feared a male prison officer she called “Sgt. Q” who threatened to kill her.
“He was gone [sic] beat me to death and mess me like a dog,’’ she wrote. “He was all in my face Sqt. Q then he grab his radio and said he was gone bust me in my head with it...’’
Ellington, who was serving 22 months for grand theft, was found dead in a confinement cell, separated from the general population. The cause of death is still unclear.
A second prisoner Michelle Tierney, 48, died on Thursday after she was transported from Lowell to Ocala Regional Medical Center.
Tierney’s family told The Herald that prison sources said Tierney was seriously ill for some time. Doctors at the hospital allegedly told them that she arrived in septic shock, her feet were blue, she had a fever and she was suffering from pneumonia.
Tierney, who served 14 years, was scheduled to go home at the start of 2015.
She is the fourth in-custody death at Lowell this year.
The FDLE confirmed Saturday that it plans to investigate all four deaths.
Three inmates wrote letters to The Herald, but didn’t sign their names because they fear retaliation. They claim guards beat them for sport, male guards sexually abuse them, and that “suicides” at the prison are actually murders.
“Our families think that we come here and we’re safe, but that’s not true,’’ wrote an inmate who has been at Lowell for about 10 years. “I’ve seen lots of injustices but no one cares, and as a means of survival, you learn to turn your head and stay silent in order to stay alive.’’
Prisoners allege that guards belong to cliques which are involved in an ongoing power struggle at the prison.
“It was almost like a gang,’’ wrote one inmate.
The letters urge Ellington’s family to obtain video surveillance footage from several areas of the prison to discover who was the last person to see Ellington alive.
Ellington’s family has paid for a private autopsy and hired civil rights attorney Daryl Parks to represent them.
Parks and the NAACP wrote a letter U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to investigate the suspicious death.
“I continue to have concerns about how we treat inmates in the Department of Corrections. The problem cries out for help on a monumental level,’’ Parks said Saturday.
Image screenshot: Flickr Creative Commons / Andrew Bardwell