Patrick Quercioli was big and burly, and with pumped muscles and an elaborate Indian tattoo on his arm, he looked more like a bodybuilder than a corrections officer.
Though he was arrested twice — once for allegedly dealing steroids and again, on charges of beating a motorist in a fit of road rage — Quercioli managed to persuade the Florida Department of Corrections to hire him in 2004.
Prisoners say Sgt. Q, as he was known, was among the most menacing officers at Lowell Correctional Institution for women, a man whose patience was not to be tested. But on Sept. 21, 2014, one inmate dared to do just that, after seeing something she wasn’t supposed to see: Quercioli allegedly having sex with an inmate in C Dorm, in a rear bathroom behind the officers’ station.
Disgusted, the inmate — Latandra Ellington — vowed to report it, even though, according to her, Quercioli threatened to kill her if she didn’t keep her mouth shut.
Ten days later, after telling her family and prison authorities about the threat, Ellington was found dead in a confinement cell at Lowell.
The death of Ellington, a mother of four with only seven months left to serve at the nation’s largest women’s prison, is a case study in how the state of Florida often fails to fully investigate suspicious inmate deaths. The story includes an inmate who was seemingly too young to die, a controversial autopsy, unchecked leads, uncollected evidence, unresolved contradictions and, finally, a finding that she died of natural causes, even though she had an elevated — and possibly toxic — level of medication in her system.