Fla. shooting puts spotlight on inmate tranport policy
By Jamie Malernee
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — The Broward County Sheriff's Office has a less stringent policy for transporting prisoners than neighboring agencies, allowing a single detention deputy to drive as many as 56 inmates in a bus or up to 15 in a van within the county limits.
That policy came under scrutiny Wednesday after a lone, 76-year-old deputy was shot and killed while transporting an inmate from jail to court. Officials are also investigating why the deputy, Paul Rein, not only made an unscheduled stop in a parking lot while transporting the prisoner, but then helped his soon-to-be killer out of the van, according to a witness.
Contrary to Rein's actions, sheriff's policy requires deputies to "proceed directly to the official destination without intermediate steps." Michael Mazza, 40, a convicted robber who was already sentenced to life in prison, weighs 200 pounds and, according to the agency, had "nothing to lose" by trying to escape. He now faces a charge of first-degree murder.
Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti said officials had recently considered requiring two deputies during transports after two other deputy shootings, but with large numbers of court transports each day, Lamberti said his office doesn't have the money for double staffing.
"We do 400 to 500 court transports a day. It's a routine thing," Lamberti said, adding of Wednesday's fatal events: "It shows, in this profession, nothing is routine."
That single-deputy policy is in stark contrast to other South Florida agencies, which require at least two:
"You always need a backup officer, in case something happens," said Miami-Dade Corrections spokeswoman Janelle Hall. "Of course, inmates will try any situation possible in order to escape."
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw agreed, saying two deputies are needed even for medically needy inmates.
Mazza was in a wheelchair and was carrying a crutch when Rein picked him up from the Sheriff's Office jail in Pompano Beach. Only minutes later, a witness saw Rein stop the van in a strip club parking lot at 1401 Powerline Road. He opened the van and helped Mazza walk along the side, an arrest affidavit said.
The witness said Mazza then "broke free" and ran toward the front while the deputy ran to the rear before collapsing. Others heard a gunshot and watched the prisoner drive off in the van, the report said.
Gary Klugiewicz, a law enforcement trainer on prisoner transport with the PoliceOne Training Network in San Francisco, said prisoners have been known to fake medical conditions to trick officers or play on their sympathies. He said the No. 1 mistake officers can make during transport is to let their guard down.
"That's what gets you in trouble — the routine nature of what is going on," he said.
Klugiewicz said that using two deputies to transport prisoners is "highly recommended." Between 1996 and the present, 80 law enforcement officers have been killed transporting prisoners in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Wednesday's shooting is the fifth such transport death this year.
Like 25 of the 80 victims across the nation, Rein was shot with his own gun. Sheriff's Office policy requires transport vehicles and prisoners to be searched for weapons beforehand. Once inside, prisoners are usually handcuffed. A cage separates the deputy from the prisoners. Vehicle doors are fixed so they can't be opened by prisoners from the inside.
Lamberti said Mazza's medical condition also was being investigated.
Sheriff's officials defended their placement of Rein as the deputy driver, despite his age. Sgt. Patrick Lambert, head of the detention deputies' union, said Rein was "not a frail old man."
Staff Writers Macollvie Jean-Francois, Sofia Santana, Brian Haas, Leon Fooksman and Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 Sun-Sentinel
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