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The Witness: The Story & Case Of Inmate Harold Hempstead

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- He is known to Florida prison authorities as inmate #268866. According to court records, he is a 37-year-old convicted burglar who has served 14 years of a 165 year sentence, which he is currently serving at the Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown, Florida.

To some human rights advocates and Florida Department of Corrections observers, he is considered a hero, fearlessly fighting to expose abuses behind bars, particularly against the most vulnerable inmates suffering from mental illnesses. 

Harold Hempstead
Harold Hempstead (Source: Michele Gillen/CBS4)

His name is Harold Hempstead and in a rare television interview he met with CBS4's Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen.

Their conversation began where the letters Hempstead wrote to Gillen left off.

What did Hempstead hear the night one inmate died? It was a death that made headlines and may prove pivotal in the history of a beleaguered prison system.

"He goes into the shower and what do you begin to hear?  Tell me the words that you heard?"  Gillen asked Hempstead.

"It takes about a minute for the shower to get full hot, so once it's on full hot he started yelling 'Get me out of here, get me out of here' and kept kicking the door and kicking the door.  He continued to yell 'It's hot, get me out of here' and was kicking and kicking and kicking," reflected Hempstead.

Harold Hempstead said he is witness to screams that may shatter a code of silence which he believes conceals terror, torture, perhaps even, a deadly secret.

"He was also yelling 'Get me out of here, it's hot! It's hot! It's hot," insisted Hempstead.

They were the screams, he said, of severely mentally ill inmate Darren Rainey.

Darren Rainey
Darren Rainey (Source: Florida Department of Corrections)

More than 3 years after his death, his body found allegedly scalded in a locked shower stall, the screams haunt Hempstead, an inmate whose name, some prison observers say, is now synonymous with whistle blower.

"When I say the name Harold Hempstead what comes to mind to you?" Gillen asked George Mallinckrodt, the former prison psychotherapist to whom Hempstead reported early concerns about inmate abuse. Mallinckrodt says he also tried to get authorities to pay attention for which he claims he was ultimately fired. On Hempstead working behind bars to expose abuses?

"A really courageous guy. I mean I was blown away," said Mallinckrodt who revealed, "I am on the outside and that doesn't even compare to what Harold Hempstead did on the inside. Because when you are facing daily threats of harm or death and you still go forward that is courage."

Now housed at the Martin Correctional Institution, serving a sentence of 165 years in connection to a rash of burglaries, Hempstead wrote to CBS4's Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen about the night an inmate lost his life.

Harold Hempstead Mail Michele Gillen
Some of the many letters written by Harold Hempstead to CBS4's Michele Gillen. (Source: Michele Gillen/CBS4)

"Bring me back to a critical night in the history perhaps in the State of Florida Department of Corrections," asked Gillen.

"June 23rd, 2012 is the night that Darren Rainey was killed in the shower," began Hempstead who claims that the 50-year-old Rainey was brought to a particular shower stall from a different wing of the prison. That wing had its own showers but apparently not like the one Rainey was escorted to the night he died.

According to Hempstead, Rainey passed within feet of his cell which was just underneath the shower.

"When the front door opened I went to my door to look," recalled Hempstead. He said Rainy was escorted to this shower by a corrections officer who he said had taken a handful of other inmates to this particular stall in the months before.

"And what was his demeanor when he was led into that shower?" asked Gillen.

"He was just looking forward. He wasn't saying nothing or yelling," claimed Hempstead.

Hempstead says he believes the shower was rigged to be controlled by staff on the outside with temperatures reportedly able to reach temperatures of 180 degrees. The alleged point: punishment for the most severe of mentally ill inmates in the transitional care unit of the Dade Correctional Institution, where Hempstead worked as an orderly.

CBS4 News has repeatedly requested an interview with the Florida Department of Corrections for comment on Hempstead's allegations and responses to a series of questions raised by CBS4. The Department said it has declined comment due to ongoing investigations by the Miami-Dade Police and the Miami-Dade Medical Examiners Officer. (Department of Corrections complete statement is included below.)

Hempstead said he can recall Rainey repeatedly saying, 'I'm sorry I can't take it no more. I won't do it again."

Hempstead went on, "And he continued to restate those words and then the kicking started slowing down and then at 9:30 it sounded like he hit the wall and then his body fell.  And then there was no more yelling."

Gillen asked, "You've used the words that basically the shower was a torture chamber?"

"It definitely was a torture chamber because it was used for the purposes of inflicting punishment," said Hempstead then added, "You have 11 working showers that you can't control the temperatures in but the only shower that they can control the temperature in, they put him in. They don't put him in a shower that he has to walk by; they take him to a shower 150 feet from his cell upstairs, the only shower that they can turn on full hot.  It's the only shower in the blind spot," claimed Hempstead.

It has been alleged that video capturing images of the wing and Rainey's last walk to the shower was somehow corrupted and not able to be viewed.

"Correct," claimed Hempstead. "They say that it goes all the way up to.. guess the majority of what is out there is it goes right to when they put him in the shower and nothing else exists," Hempstead told Gillen.

Not a surprise to Mallinckrodt.

"Oh there were definitely blind spots when I worked there. Half the time the cameras weren't even working, they had malfunctioned," said Mallinckrodt.

Hempstead says he wrote to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office, along with other government and police authorities. He says he implored them to investigate, even asking them to study Rainey's feet.

"I wrote the Medical Examiner's office, 'Look at the condition of his feet because I know he was barefooted because his shoes fell off'." Hempstead said he saw Rainey's naked body being removed and carried out on a stretcher just feet from him.

"Were you able, in those glimpses of his going by, to tell anything at all? Whether his skin had been scalded?" asked Gillen.

"It was definitely extremely marred and I could see something was, you know, I would say marred, I can't explain it because I've never seen nothing like it," said Hempstead.

He said one Sergeant came and had the water temperature tested and reportedly announced, "It's 183-degrees, you have to disconnect the shower, if you don't disconnect the shower it could cost all of our jobs." Again, the DOC has not responded to any of our questions, pending ongoing investigations.

He said another inmate was ultimately told to clean up the shower where Hempstead claims some of Rainey's skin was found.

"I wrote approximately a dozen letters to Miami-Dade Police Department and also to the Medical Examiner's office," said Hempstead.

Rainey's family had only been told that he died of a heart attack, according to family attorney, Milton Grimes.

"So this just sat there for a year and a half with me writing letters and nothing being down about it until the people with the Herald decided to look into it a little bit further," Hempstead told Gillen.

Indeed, CBS4 News partner the Miami Herald looked into the death of Darren Rainey and Hempstead's allegations, extensively. Their 2015 in-depth series The Caged Crusader chronicled Hempstead's journey and was credited by many prison observers with changes within high ranks of the system. But  more than 3 years after his death, there are still no official answers as to what killed Darren Rainey. Miami-Dade police on Tuesday told CBS4 News that the homicide investigation remains open. And an autopsy report?

CBS4 has contacted the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's office about this issue for months, and they were continuously told there was no conclusion to the autopsy and that results were pending.

"It's a very complicated case. I can't comment on it," Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Dr. Emma Lew, who conducted the autopsy, recently told CBS4 News.

"Is that acceptable to you?" Gillen asked Hempstead.

"No, If this was anybody other than who he was, I believe that this would have come right away.  If this was somebody in society - but I've pushed this to everybody that because of who he was, mainly a prisoner, he's black, he's mentally disabled, he was a Muslim." He went on. "In my opinion his life is of no value to the majority of people, not everybody but the majority of people," said Hempstead.

A life and death inmate #268866 says he refuses to forget.

CBS4 News has requested an interview with the Florida Department of Corrections, asking for comment on a range of our findings and Hempstead's accusations. The DOC responded with the following statement.

"The death of Darren Rainey remains the subject of an open and active investigation being led by the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD). Until the investigation has been completed, any questions regarding the investigation or the circumstances of Mr. Rainey's death should be directed to the MDPD. Since the initiation of this investigation, the Florida Department of Corrections has worked collaboratively with the MDPD, the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office State Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Department of Justice. The Department will continue to fully cooperate with our law enforcement partners and employ all available resources to ensure that a thorough investigation is completed as expeditiously as possible."  - Office of Communications/ Florida Department of Corrections

CBS4 News reached out again to the Medical Examiner's office Tuesday night and was told that results from an autopsy were pending approval from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.

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