Jacksonville > Nightmare Jail Episode Leads to Changes in Inmate Policy

| April 20, 2015

jail-bars-arrested

Florida Times Union

JACKSONVILLE — Mark Baker was 150 yards from the emergency room doors, from getting the help his dad wanted for him.

Instead, at a pharmacy across the street from the hospital near downtown, police stopped and arrested Baker that March night. He was drunk, trespassing and refused to leave the store, police said.

The 25-year-old was suicidal, so the Jacksonville jail staff stripped him and placed him naked in a cell with another inmate.

That other man also was naked. And he had been accused of a sex crime.

Baker’s cellmate raped him, once that night and again in the morning.

Baker and 108 other inmates have reported sexual assaults — everything from being raped to being groped against their will — while in the custody of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office since 2005. Last year, the Sheriff’s Office hit a 10-year high — 19 reported assaults of 31,000 inmates.

Corrections Director Tara Wildes said there are probably more attacks inmates don’t report.

Baker’s case from March 3, 2010, and his parents’ ensuing lawsuit prompted the Sheriff’s Office to change policies. The case settled in November last year, and those policy changes went into effect soon after. Wildes said if not for a bad policy that paired Baker with his attacker, Joesph Lawton Pye, Baker never would have been raped.

But Sheriff John Rutherford said the policy was good and officers could’ve stopped the rape if Baker had called for help.

Before the policy changes, the Sheriff’s Office required guards to separate violent and non-violent inmates. But the policy didn’t specify whether guards had to separate suicidal inmates into violent and non-violent categories, which explains how Baker came to be in the same cell with a man accused of a sex crime.

The Bakers’ settlement changed that. Now, in Jacksonville’s jails, new policies are in place:

■ Guards separate violent, suicidal inmates from non-violent, suicidal inmates.

■ Policies clearly say sexual contact is prohibited.

■ Any policies that don’t line up with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, known as PREA, will change.

■ The jail will install up to 122 cameras this year, including two in the suicide-watch dorm. The jail has $122,000 in federal money to buy them.

But the settlement didn’t change everything.

Guards still strip suicidal inmates and put them two to a cell. The Sheriff’s Office says it’s the best policy to make sure inmates don’t kill themselves. As of now, there are no cameras. A guard checks on them every 15 minutes.

How can the jail staff think that’s a good idea, asked Brenda V. Smith, director of the Washington College of Law’s Project on Addressing Prison Rape and one of the top experts Congress appointed to the Prison Rape Elimination Commission in 2003.

“You don’t even need standards to say that is incredibly ill-advised,” Smith said. Baker’s rape could have been prevented, she said. “It’s really a terrible tragedy.”

Fifteen minutes is too long to wait for a guard to check on a cell, she said. In 15 minutes, an inmate can become a victim.

Some jails, Smith said, monitor suicidal inmates non-stop, and they provide tunics instead of stripping inmates. The Jacksonville jail should follow that model, she said.

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed a law aimed at overhauling the way local, state and federal law enforcement handle jail rapes. The law called for years of studies that led to the federal government publishing its PREA standards in 2012. Those standards outlined what policies best keep inmates safe and encourage them to report rapes.

But the standards didn’t specify whether jails could require inmates to be stripped.

The Florida Times-Union looked into the case after Baker died of an overdose in 2011, a year after his rape.

LAWSUIT DETAILS ATTACK

The details and dialogue from Baker’s case are in his parents’ lawsuit, Sheriff’s Office investigative reports and a videotaped detective’s interview. Wildes and Rutherford also spoke about the rape and the policy changes.

On March 3, 2010, Baker was drunk at a Walgreens on Eighth Street.

The incident wasn’t the first time Baker felt the beginnings of alcohol poisoning. Without treatment, he might shake, hallucinate, vomit. His dad spoke to him on the phone and tried to direct him out of the Walgreens and to UF Health’s emergency room doors only 400 feet away.

Walgreens employees asked him to leave. Baker later said he hadn’t understood, so he refused.

An officer arrested him.

The 25-year-old had the mental capacity of an adolescent, a mental health counselor said at the jail.

When Baker said he wanted to kill himself, he was stripped and sent to join Pye in a suicide-watch cell.

Pye’s record shows at least a dozen misdemeanors and felonies, mostly property crimes such as grand theft and burglary. He was serving a stint for sex with a minor whose mother said had mental problems. He later pleaded guilty to child abuse.

A February 2010 jail report labeled Pye suicidal and revoked his recreation privileges because he was “violent/uncontrollable.” This was four weeks before officers paired Baker with Pye in a sixth-floor cell.

Baker would have seen Pye’s tattoos, covering his back and both arms. On his left arm, a skull and cross. On his right arm, a 904 and the outline of the state, and three lines to mark three of his years in prison.

If Baker wanted to go home, a police report recounted Pye telling him, he’d have to obey.

Pye forced Baker to perform oral sex, a report said. The next morning Pye woke him with a threat. It was going to get worse.

Guards are supposed to check on suicidal inmates like Baker and Pye every 15 minutes.

Pye told Baker he would wait until after the guards changed shifts, according to a report, and then he would seize his moment.

He pressed a mattress against the glass door of Cell 28, forced Baker on the ground, according to a report, and attacked Baker.

At 7:04 a.m., Officer Russell Rhoden finished checking the lower floor of cells, walked up the stairs and looked into Pye’s eyes.

Immediately, Pye jumped up and began washing and wiping his genitals.

“I want out,” Baker told Rhoden while crying, according to a report. “I want my mommy and daddy.”

The rape took three to four minutes.

When a detective first asked Pye what happened, he feigned ignorance. He said he never talked to Baker. He also said he suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and ADHD.

“I don’t want to talk no more,” Pye told a detective. “I just want to die. That would be easier.”

Baker told guards he didn’t call out for help during the rapes because he feared for his life. Also, he was gay.

“I have a flamboyant personality and have the mannerisms,” Baker told a police officer. “But that doesn’t give him the right to just take it!”

Five months later, Pye pleaded guilty to the rape.

Months after Baker’s release, he sent 30 Facebook messages to someone who had spent time in a mental health facility with him. Police arrested Baker on stalking charges. He died Aug. 16, 2011, while that case was in court.

Palm Beach County’s medical examiner ruled Baker’s death an accidental overdose. He had gone into a Walgreens and couldn’t afford alcohol, so he bought a liter of mouthwash. A passer-by saw his body slumped over on grass next to a shopping center. He had gained 80 pounds in the nearly 18 months since the rape.

After Baker’s death, his parents filed a lawsuit blaming the Sheriff’s Office for his rape.

Pye, currently in prison, replied to a letter seeking an interview, but he said he wanted to know how an interview would benefit him. Told The Florida Times-Union doesn’t pay for interviews, he never replied.

HARD TO QUANTIFY

It’s difficult, experts say, to compare jails and identify which counties have a bigger rape problem.

Sometimes a lower number of rape reports means a jail doesn’t do a good job of reporting the crime.

Allen Beck, a U.S. Department of Justice statistician who analyzes jail rape data, said rape reports will increase as police make it easier to report attacks. Because data on sexual assault reports varies so much — Hillsborough County, for example, reported no sexual assault allegations in 2013 despite having a large jail population — Beck prefers anonymous inmate surveys.

But the justice department doesn’t conduct those surveys in Jacksonville’s Pre-Trial Detention Facility, the city’s primary jail. The only way to compare Jacksonville’s numbers to other counties, Beck said, is to use the number of sexual assault reports. Sometimes, those numbers are elusive.

Miami-Dade, Orange and Hillsborough counties all provided data about sexual-assault allegations that didn’t match the reports they sent to the federal government. When asked why the numbers didn’t match, the counties had various answers. Orange didn’t count staff-on-inmate assaults. Miami-Dade said its employees didn’t have access to the database with the right information. Hillsborough said the federal reports might not include consensual sex.

Beck said next year’s surveys might need to clarify that all allegations must be included, even those proved to be consensual.

Jacksonville’s jails usually reported more assaults than the other large counties, except for Miami-Dade. From 2010 to 2013, Jacksonville’s jails reported more assaults per inmate than Hillsborough, Orange and Broward counties.

In the previous nine years, officers said about 14 percent of the 109 reported assaults were substantiated. Less than 4 percent were unfounded. The vast majority fell into the murky area of unsubstantiated reports that couldn’t be confirmed or denied.

About two-thirds of Jacksonville’s sexual assault reports since 2005 specifically allege penetration.

In the 1980s and 1990s, corrections officers across the nation didn’t address sexual assault reports properly, said Elizabeth Layman, a former cop who teaches agencies how to comply with PREA. She lives in Nassau County.

The 2012 standards, Layman said, do a good job of establishing what a jail should do. Those standards require prisons and jails to undergo audits every three years, ensuring they comply with the law.

Within the next month, the Sheriff’s Office top staff will discuss and potentially approve new rape-prevention policies that match the law, including a new policy to put jail-rape data online.

After that, the jail will undergo its first audit.

Already, in 2013, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office revised its inmate orientation handbook.

“While you are in jail,” the handbook reads, “absolutely no one (inmate or employee of the DOC [Department of Corrections]) has the right to pressure you into any sexual acts.”

The handbook then gives advice for avoiding rape.

Don’t show fear. Don’t accept gifts. Don’t let an inmate be your protector. Don’t use drugs. If you feel in danger, you probably are.

While prisons house convicted felons, jails have criminals and accused criminals, from hardened killers awaiting trial to men and women accused only of drinking too much. Some inmates stay in jail for hours. Others stay years.

Smith, the prison-rape expert at Washington College of Law, said she hopes the Sheriff’s Office looks back at Baker’s tragedy and fixes its problems. She said she’s “very concerned about the jail’s practice of housing suicidal inmates together — nude.”

“What they’re doing is not working,” said Opio Sokoni, an activist and past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Jacksonville. “Obviously, it’s not working. Where is it working?”

The Sheriff’s Office should commission an academic study, Sokoni said, to figure out just how bad the jails’ problems are.

Rape victims already fear telling others their stories, he said, and inmates don’t like to tell people they served jail time. Combine the two factors, and it’s hard to create a culture where inmates who have been raped feel comfortable talking about it.

“The feeling and the thinking is: If you don’t do wrong, you don’t end up there,” he said. “If you end up there, one of those things that can happen to you is rape. Who is going to do anything for people who are out of sight, out of mind?”

JAIL FAILED BAKER

Corrections Director Wildes admitted jail policy failed Baker by putting him with Pye instead of a less violent cellmate.

She couldn’t discipline any guards, she said, because the policy was to blame, not any officer’s actions.

Rutherford, though, said he thought the policy was adequate and right.

“That’s why we had the policy,” he said. Only after the lawsuit did they decide that changing the policy was “maybe one thing we could’ve done better, possibly.”

“That’s a change that we made,” he continued. “Is it significant to the safety of individuals within the facility? I don’t know, but we made that change as part of the agreement in the settlement. Maybe it was a factor [in the rape], but we thought the policy was a good policy from the beginning. If we didn’t, we would’ve changed it back then.”

When Pye threatened Baker, he should’ve told the guard, Rutherford said.

Why, Rutherford asked, was Baker afraid? “What did he base that on? I’m not going to retry the case, but what evidence is there he couldn’t have told the officer in the dorm that he felt this would’ve happened? I wish he would’ve. If he thought he was in danger, he should’ve told someone.”

The sheriff said he knows of “absolutely no reason” Baker should’ve feared retribution from Pye. “It was just a feeling that he had,” Rutherford said. “Had he told us, we might’ve been able to prevent it.

“You said it was three minutes [for the rape to occur]. That’s pretty quick.

“Can I stop somebody from punching somebody in the face in there? Can I stop a sexual assault between two people? No, I can’t prevent it. There’s all sorts of things I can do to eliminate it as much as possible. …

“We’re going to do all we can to prevent it, but are we going to get it down to zero? No. I don’t think that will ever happen in prison. That’s three minutes.

“The officer was in the dorm. All the policies were being followed. Had he told us that this threat had been made, first of all, we would’ve investigated the threat because we investigate them as well as allegations of an event. So I think we are taking every expected and reasonable and known step to prevent it [rape].”

Wildes said she doesn’t think the Sheriff’s Office should stop stripping suicidal inmates, so that policy won’t change. The guards do give suicidal inmates a security blanket.

“I take very seriously taking bedding or clothing away from somebody,” Wildes said. “You’ve got to be in a very serious situation for that to even be considered, but if mental health tells me that’s what needs to be done — that this person is at risk of hanging themselves by their boxers, which has happened unfortunately— then we have to go with that.”

Academic studies say jails should only remove inmates’ clothing as a last resort and only when the inmate is actually hurting himself.

When asked why the jail still strips inmates, Wildes said guards tried to use special gowns for a while, but “we haven’t found a gown yet that somebody can’t harm themselves with. We literally had one guy braid up the paper gown and try to hang himself with the paper gown.”

Smith, the prison-rape expert, still thinks the Sheriff’s Office can do more.

If the Sheriff’s Office needs to strip inmates, she said, then maybe it shouldn’t pair the inmates.

If the office needs to pair the inmates, she said, then it needs to watch the cells non-stop.

“Just because someone is suicidal doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be vulnerable in other ways,” she said. “If you are going to put them in a cell with somebody else, then you’ve got to have ongoing live supervision of them, 24 /7. You’ve got to have a camera running, and somebody’s got to be watching it.”

Wildes said the new cameras won’t be inside cells. They will face the dorm in general, and they will be used to confirm what happens in the cells, not to prevent suicides or attacks.

Guards won’t regularly monitor the jail’s cameras.

But she and Rutherford said they don’t think monitoring the cameras are necessary because a guard is in the dorm with the inmates, checking on the cells every 15 minutes.

The best the Sheriff’s Office can do, Wildes said, is “make people aware of the avenue for reporting and you make people aware of how to call for help and what to do, then I think you’ve done all you can do at that point.”

No matter what, Smith said, the Sheriff’s Office needs to make inmate safety a priority.

“Many times there are policies on the book that if followed, people wouldn’t be victimized,” she said. “Place the onus where it needs to be. The onus clearly is on the agency, the correctional facility, to train and supervise, investigate and take appropriate action when you find either staff or an inmate has abused somebody.”

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