A man who died during a violent Florida prison transfer last week was housed in the inpatient mental health building at Dade Correctional Institution for inmates, and was beaten by officers somewhere on prison property before being taken away in a transport vehicle, where he would not be pronounced dead until hours later and hundreds of miles away.
Though he died more than a week ago, the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have still not identified the inmate, and only acknowledged the death after an inquiry from the Miami Herald. The Herald has since independently confirmed that his name was Ronald Gene Ingram, a 60-year-old from Hillsborough County who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1986.
The fact that Ingram was housed in the “transitional care unit,” or the TCU, and the silence from authorities following his death, echoed the 2012 death of Darren Rainey, an inmate who suffered from mental illness who was locked in a hot, makeshift shower in the same mental health ward for between one and two hours, pleading to be let out, according to TCU inmates, who said the shower was used to torment prisoners. Rainey collapsed and died as the water stripped the skin from his corpse.
The Department of Corrections pledged to reform the TCU at Dade CI and others like it after a Herald investigation documented Rainey’s death and other examples of cruel treatment of inmates in the TCU, including serving inmates “air trays” empty of food as punishment or putting laxative or urine in their food. Among those measures: increased video surveillance and hiring ombudsmen to represent inmates.
Both the FDC and the FDLE have refused to release information about Ingram’s death, citing an active criminal investigation. But the Herald pieced together an account of what happened based on public records and interviews with several prison employees, inmates, law enforcement sources and other individuals familiar with the investigation.
Ingram was listed as released from Dade Correctional and deceased in recent weeks on the FDC’s website. The Districts 5 & 24 Medical Examiner’s Office in Leesburg, Florida, confirmed that it was handling Ingram’s autopsy.
Though the Herald confirmed Ingram was housed at the TCU through unofficial sources, it’s unclear exactly where at Dade Correctional he was beaten. Several sources said the blows were dealt in the sally port, a fortified entrance and exit point at the prison. It is also unclear whether the beating occurred on or off camera, but Ingram was said to be visibly injured before being placed into the transport vehicle.
The motive behind Ingram’s beating was not immediately clear, though one law enforcement source indicated he antagonized officers by throwing a cup of urine. Sources said the beating was first reported by other Dade Correctional officers who relayed the information to a different FDC institution out of fear that it would be covered up if reported internally at Dade CI.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is handling the probe, has declined to share or confirm any details, saying only that it is investigating the death of one inmate and that the “case is active.”
In response to Ingram’s fatal beating last week, the Department of Corrections placed 10 of its officers on leave. One officer has resigned. But the agency revealed nothing about the death until after an inquiry from the Herald on Friday last week.
The following morning, on Saturday, five days after Ingram’s beating, the FDC issued a press release titled “statement regarding inmate death” that contained little detail about what happened and did not name Ingram.
In the days since the press release, the Florida Department of Corrections has declined to provide additional information, including the ranks of the officers it placed on leave, saying only that they were “of various ranks.” The agency did however clarify that all the officers placed on leave worked at Dade CI.
Though the department’s weekend press release mentioned that the warden at Dade CI had been “recently replaced,” it did not say where the former warden went. In response to subsequent questions from the Herald, the department revealed the former warden had been transferred to Sumter Correctional, west of Orlando, where he is assistant warden. Dade CI has had three wardens in the past five years, the FDC said.
The FDC declined to make its new secretary, agency veteran Ricky Dixon, available for an interview, saying he “will not be providing an interview on an FDLE open and active criminal case at this time.”
Though the Herald requested a record that would detail Ingram’s housing and disciplinary history on Monday morning, the FDC had not provided it as of Wednesday afternoon, despite routinely fulfilling such requests for other inmates within hours.
Mortality records dating back to August 2016 show that there have been 99 deaths at Dade Correctional since then. Because the records are updated only periodically, they do not include recent deaths from the past several weeks, such as Ingram’s.
The vast majority of those deaths have been ruled “natural” by the department and outside agencies such as the FDLE, though prisoners in the Florida system often cast doubt on the validity of those determinations, saying that drug overdoses and even violent deaths are covered up by authorities.
One former prisoner at Dade Correctional, who was still on probation and asked not to be named due to fears he would be retaliated against, said that he visited the TCU, though he was not housed there.
“The officers that work there … it’s just entertainment to them,” he said. “You would go there to pick up the laundry and … you see people standing behind the door bloody and black-eyed and beat up. They’re looking at you and they’re afraid to say something. And if you’re an inmate, there’s nobody to say anything to. ”
Dade Correctional and its TCU became infamous in 2014 when the death of Rainey was revealed two years after the fact in a series of Miami Herald articles. Rainey was serving a short sentence for cocaine possession. After he smeared feces on the walls of his cell, corrections officers marched him past standard showers and placed him in a closet, rigged with shower spout, whose temperature controls were located in a neighboring room.
Officers turned on the hot water and left him inside the locked closet for between one and two hours. Six inmates told investigators he screamed for mercy, although the official investigation years later questioned their credibility. When officers found him, collapsed in a puddle of water, the skin had peeled from much of Rainey’s body.
No one was charged with a crime in the death of Rainey. A report released years later by the office of Miami-Dade Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said the death of 50-year-old Rainey was an accident, the result of complications from his mental illness, a heart condition and “confinement in a shower. ”
The warden and secretary of the prison system were both replaced in the aftermath of the Rainey revelations.
Bennie Lazzara, a Tampa criminal defense attorney who represented Ingram at trial, said his former client had severe mental health disabilities and came from a poor family in rural Hillsborough County.
“I would not even say he had the mentality of a, from my discussions from him, of a teenager – he was like a child,” Lazzara said. “The psychiatrist that I called at trial testified that he did not know right from wrong.”
Ingram was convicted of fatally shooting a woman he had previously had a relationship with, using an automatic weapon, purportedly inspired by the Rambo movie “First Blood,” released in 1982. A judge in his case ruled out the death penalty due to the evidence presented at trial about his mental health issues, according to his attorney.
Lazzara said he was not aware of Ingram having any siblings or other relatives other than his parents, who were elderly at the time of his sentencing.
The Herald was unsuccessful in its efforts to reach friends or relatives of Ingram.
Miami Herald reporters Julie K. Brown and David Ovalle contributed to this article.
This story was originally published February 23, 2022 5:36 PM.