BSO says public defender's office has incorrect information on inmate deaths

Agency defends quality of care given to inmates at Broward County facilities

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - The Broward Sheriff's Office responded Friday to accusations made by the Broward County Public Defender's Office, questioning the level of care inmates are receiving following the recent deaths of two middle-aged inmates.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Sheriff Gregory Tony, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and Executive Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said they were told by other inmates that a 41-year-old inmate died June 1 after his cries for help and medical assistance went ignored and he had gone without food or water for some time.

"No information has been found to substantiate the claim that he 'had not consumed food or water for some period' as alleged in the letter," BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said in a news release. "Contrary to the allegations in the letter, BSO records indicate that he regularly received his meals. On Feb. 11, 2019, when he was booked into the jail, he weighed 145 pounds, and on May 18, 2019, he weighed 153 pounds."

According to the news release, the inmate, who was being housed at the North Broward Infirmary Medical Unit, was taken to a local hospital, where he died. 

Coleman-Wright said his cause of death is pending.

The attorneys said a second man, who was just shy of his 48th birthday, died June 7 while in the agency's care.

"(The inmate) died while awaiting community placement for mental health treatment. He had been adjudged incompetent to proceed due to his mental illness," the letter stated.

Coleman-Wright said the inmate in question had undergone a comprehensive medical and mental health screening during his initial processing on April 6 and had at least five visits by mental health professionals during his stay.

"In addition to the mental health services provided at the jail, he also received at least 14 routine and non-routine interactions with nursing staff and medical providers," she said.

According to Coleman-Wright, the man died after being taken to a local hospital following a "complaint of a sudden onset of pain."

She said the medical examiner's office later determined that the inmate had died of a heart attack.

The BSO spokeswoman said investigations are still ongoing into the deaths of those two inmates. She said BSO's Internal Affairs Division investigated another incident mentioned in the letter involving a mentally ill inmate who cut off his penis while in isolation, and no employee misconduct was found.

"Unfortunately, a large number of people who are arrested and brought to jail have serious medical and mental health conditions and many suffer from a significant lack of medical and mental health care in the community," Coleman-Wright said. "While in custody, inmates are provided around the clock access to medical and mental health services to address all their medical and mental health needs. Inmates who need a higher level of care are sent to appropriate outside health care facilities."

Finkelstein and Weekes also mentioned an incident involving a female inmate who gave birth alone in her cell. 

"You're talking about someone self-mutilating, you're talking about someone being forced to deliver a baby without any care and you're talking about two deaths in a very short period of time. That's troubling," Weekes told Local 10 News reporter Layron Livingston. 

Coleman-Wright said the medical provider for the jail has fired two employees and provided additional training to improve the care of pregnant inmates.

The BSO spokeswoman said the public defender's office had incorrect information about the number of recent deaths.  

According to the public defender's office, 10 inmates died in Broward County jails last year. But Coleman-Wright said five inmates died in custody, which was a reduction from 2017.

"Furthermore, these five inmates died at the hospital, not at the jail," she said. "Following the standard investigations into these deaths, the Medical Examiner's Office found in four of the cases that the inmates died from natural causes as a result of serious medical conditions, and the PSC found no misconduct in any of these deaths. The one additional death from 2018 remains under investigation."

Regardless, the public defender's office has demanded an immediate investigation into the frequency of inmate deaths and timely health care procedures.

BSO maintains that the agency "remains committed to providing the highest level of services to the citizens and visitors to Broward County."  
 

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