Feds help asked in Florida prison death

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 07, 2014 9:06 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The attorneys who represented Trayvon Martin's family have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the death of a Florida inmate who had told relatives she feared for her life in prison.

Thirty-six-year-old Latandra Ellington, a mother of four, was found dead on Oct. 1 at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala. Attorneys Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump say an official at the prison told Ellington's aunt on the phone that the woman would be looked after shortly before her death.

Ellington was serving one year and 10 months for fraud charges after she filed fake tax returns.

Parks and Crump say the family has not been provided with any information about Ellington's death. The attorneys say an independent autopsy showed hemorrhaging was found that was caused by blunt force trauma from punches or kicks to the lower abdomen.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman says the agency is investigating. The Department of Corrections in a statement said "this was an unattended death" and did not provide many details, citing the ongoing investigation. It stated Ellington was in "administrative confinement" because the department took seriously the concerns about "alleged threats to her safety."

Parks and Crump sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday stating their belief that prison officers caused Ellington's death and asking the Department of Justice to investigate "to prevent spoliation of evidence and ensure a fair and impartial investigation."

The request for an investigation comes as a scandal widens over the treatment of Florida prison inmates. Scott's top watchdog has been accused of doing nothing after being warned about a possible cover-up of two suspicious prison deaths.

Randall Jordan-Aparo died at the Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. He was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell. Darren Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner, died at Dade Correctional in 2012 after being punished with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called for a federal investigation into Rainey's death.

Crump said they have not been given information any preliminary information from the state's autopsy on Ellington. Park said Ellington gave the names of the guards who she said threatened her.

The attorneys represented the family of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old teenager shot to death in 2012 by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the death. The case stirred a national debate on race, as Martin was black and Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic. It also stirred debate on self-defense laws.

Representative Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, called on Gov. Rick Scott to get involved in the prison death issue.

"We know that the Governor's incredibly busy trying to win an election, but we should be trying to save a generation of people," Williams said. "Here we have a number of Floridians who have died in our prisons and nothing has happened. It's a travesty of justice."