State To Reopen Fatal Case Of Inmate Gassing

Rommell Johnson, an inmate at a Florida Panhandle prison who had chronic asthma, couldn’t breathe on June 3, 2010.

Less than five hours after receiving treatment for severe breathing problems by a day-shift nurse, Johnson was dead, the result of an asthma attack caused by noxious chemicals sprayed by guards. The death was ruled accidental by the Department of Corrections inspector general and a medical examiner.

The circumstances leading up to Johnson’s death, and prison officials’ handling of it, bear striking similarities to the death just three months later of Randall Jordan-Aparo, an inmate at another Panhandle prison who died after being repeatedly sprayed with the same lethal chemicals used on Johnson.

. . .

Florida Justice Institute Executive Director Randall Berg, who represented Johnson’s mother in the lawsuit against the state, said it is unknown how many other closed cases bear further scrutiny.

“I don’t think that we can ever be confident that we found all of them. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg. We can only investigate those cases which are brought to our attention since there is no real meaningful oversight by the department to police itself,” Berg said.

. . .

Berg, the lawyer for Johnson’s family, and other advocates have asked the U.S. Department of Justice, which is reportedly investigating wrongdoing at several state prisons, to do a full review of the Florida prison system.

“As a result of there being no meaningful oversight by the department, one will have no idea whether all of the wrongful deaths have been brought to light,” Berg said.

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