A freshly minted state memo on investigating “unnatural” state prison inmate deaths may not do certain dead and dying prisoners a lot of good.
The memo between the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) enables FDLE, not DOC, to investigate unnatural inmate deaths -think homicide, suicide- from here on out.
But that doesn’t appear to include deaths by accidents, and accidents are sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
Take Marvin Morris. It’s not clear whether he had mental problems, but it certainly looked that way in April 2013, when Morris crashed his head into a metal door at least once and ran wildly about an enclosed area, eventually falling to the concrete floor.
According to statements given to state investigators, guards waited until Morris was on the floor, unresponsive and dying, before entering the area.
Much was made of the fact that Morris was smuggling a peanut butter sandwich out of the chow hall at the time. And Morris’s elderly mother said she was told by DOC that her son had choked to death on the peanut butter.
His death is categorized as an accident.
There is much about this accident that FDLE would not have looked at under the new agreement with DOC: Would Morris have lived if guards intervened earlier to subdue him? If nurses had?
In fact, DOC investigators recommended criminal charges be brought against two health care workers in connection with Morris’s death.
That didn’t happen.
But Morris’s death, officially an accident, illustrates how possible criminal behavior could escape notice by FDLE, if its investigative scope is limited to homicides and suicides.
Of course, the vast majority of inmates dying in Florida prisons are dying from natural causes, not homicides, suicides or even accidents.
Then again, deaths from natural causes can be every bit as troubling, as some have been accompanied by gross misdiagnosis and maltreatment, including giving three dying inmates Tylenol and ibuprofen for their end-stage cancers.