Miami, Florida — Katherine Fernandez Rundle, state attorney from Miami-Dade County, visited NYC this week, where she held a speech during the Smart on Crime Innovations Conference. The conference, held annually, is a gathering of officials, researchers, community leaders, journalists, lawyers, and others who are concerned about reforming the national criminal justice system.
On Tuesday, when Fernandez Rundle attended, the topic of the panel was about criminal justice system and its comportment towards people who suffered from different kinds of disabilities.
This wouldn’t have gotten that much news time but for what happened two days later. Namely, there were a lot of people ready to criticize Rundle and her office for how they handled the death of an inmate with a mental disorder. This pushed the organizers of the conference to issue a statement on their official Twitter account, claiming that Fernandez Rundle’s participation was not “properly vetted.” In hindsight, the organizers conceded that they should not have allowed Fernandez Rundle to come on as a speaker for a panel which dealt with such an important issue. They said that they fully understand it was a mistake on their behalf, which was inexcusable. In their tweet, they apologized for causing any harm to the justice reform community and disability justice community.
When asked about the conference, Fernandez Rundle said that she was happy with how she handled her appearance. In an interview with a Miami newspaper, she claimed that she was well received and that everyone was happy. She added that the organizers thanked her for showing up.
Reason for Apology
In the tweet, the conference organizers didn’t single out Fernandez Rundle by name, but a spokesperson later confirmed the reports which alleged that the tweet referred to the state attorney. The unnamed spokesperson didn’t want to go into what was behind the decision for issuing the statement. She simply said that the statement shared all the necessary information.
Reportedly, the statement came out as a consequence to Twitter critics who were vocal against the way Fernandez Rundle handled herself in the case of Darren Rainey. The state attorney’s critics wanted her to charge correctional officers who were employed at Dade Corrections Institution. There, mentally ill Rainey lost his life after sitting in a hot shower alone for almost two hours.
Fernandez Rundle’s office perceived Rainey’s death as accidental, caused by three combining factors: “confinement in a shower,” his heart condition, and his mental illness. The investigation of Rainey’s decease lasted for three years, and the county medical examiner who was in charge of the autopsy ruled that Rainey didn’t have any burns caused by the shower.
Nonetheless, Fernandez Rundle, who first became state attorney in 1993 and has been in the position since, faced criticism over the case, including disapproval from her own party members. Fernandez Rundle is a Democrat and will join the race for yet another term during the next year’s elections.
Fernandez Rundle’s View
The state attorney had already had a board meeting planned in New York when the conference asked her to take part on the panel. She is a board member at the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Consequently, it’s clear that her speaking at the panel was planned for weeks. During the panel, there was no mention of Rainey’s death and his condition.
Fernandez Rundle stated they talked about the state attorney’s prosecution of Jonathan Aledda instead. Aledda, a police officer from Miami, fired shots at a gravely autistic man who was holding a toy truck. According to Fernandez Rundle, they also discussed programs for civil citations for juveniles in the school system. Moreover, they went over Miami-Dade’s programs for mentally ill people and helping them to stay out of jail. Fernandez Rundle finished by saying she was happy to be on the panel, and that she felt like she contributed to the conference.