Miami-Dade State Attorney race one of the most important on primary

Katherine Fernandez Rundle has spent 27 years in office; her challenger, Melba Pearson, says that's too long

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – One of the most important races in Miami-Dade County on the primary ballot on Aug. 18 is the race for State Attorney. Whoever holds that job is, essentially, the top law enforcement officer in the county. They are the person who charges and tries accused criminals.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle is in her 27th year as Miami-Dade State Attorney. She is a permanent fixture in Miami-Dade politics and criminal justice.

But Melba Pearson, who worked for Rundle for 15 years, believes it is time for new blood at the state attorney’s office.

“I am running for state attorney because, for too long, there has not been equal justice,” Pearson said.

“Absolutely, 27 years is too long,” she said. “When you think about the fact that she was appointed when Janet Reno became the attorney general for President Bill Clinton that tells you that we are in a completely different world at this point.”

Fernandez Rundle is 70 years old and has been the state attorney since 1993. Before that, she was chief assistant to Reno.

She often shows up at high-profile crime scenes showing compassion for the victims and determination to catch criminals.

Pearson, 46, had been an assistant state attorney for 15 years in Miami . She resigned to become deputy director of the ACLU.

“Justice has to be equitable for everyone,” Pearson said.

Fernande Rundle has brought charges against hundreds of police officers over the years, but has never charged an on-duty cop with murder.

High profile case: The death of Darren Rainey

No one was ever charged in the 2012 death of prison inmate Darren Rainey. Rainey was a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution who defecated in his cell and smeared feces on himself. Fernandez Rundle’s office said he willingingly walked out of his cell and was escorted by corrections offers to the shower to wash the feces from his body.

(Below, video from inside the jail.)

A fellow inmate said that the officers left Rainey there by himself for more than an hour and the shower filled with hot water and steam. When they returned, he was dead. The suit against the state said that Rainey died from being scalded.

“It is clear that charges could have been filed in this case to hold the officers accountable for boiling a man to death,” Pearson said.

Fernandez Rundle said the evidence wasn’t there to charge the corrections officers in Darren Rainey’s death. It took five years to reach that decision.

The family settled a civil rights lawsuit for $4.5 million.

(Read the close out memo in this case)

Local 10′s “This Week in South Florida,” hosted by Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg, will have both candidates on the program for a live debate. Tune in at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on Local 10. You can also watch after the show at Local

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