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$1.45 Million To Be Paid In Death Of Florida Juvenile Prisoner

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will pay $1.45 million to settle a federal lawsuit arising from the 2003 death of Omar Paisley at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, the Miami Herald reported on November 2, 2004. A separate settlement was reached with Miami Children's Hospital, the prison's medical provider, but the amount of that settlement was not disclosed. Lorenzo Williams, the family's attorney, said only that it is substantially" more than what the state is paying.

Paisley's story is one of unbelievable neglect and indifference. For three days Paisley, 17, begged his captors at Miami-Dade for help. His pleas fell on deaf ears, however, as guards and medical personnel callously watched his health fade. Uncared for and untreated, Paisley suffered an agonizing death from a ruptured appendix--a death the lawsuit called entirely preventable.

Paisley awoke on the morning of June 7, 2003, seriously ill and in pain. According to the lawsuit, Paisley informed guard Johnny Byrd of his illness and submitted a sick call request stating, my stomach hurts really bad. I don't know what to do. I cand (sic) sleep.

At 12:10 p.m., prison Nurse Gaile Loperfido was notified that Paisley was seriously ill and unable to eat, yet she waited roughly two hours before responding. Even then Loperfido failed to refer Paisley to a physician or fill out the necessary paperwork. That afternoon Dr. Lloyd Miller also paid a routine visit to Paisley. Miller, who was conducting a psychiatric check up, noted that Paisley was sick and in bed, but he too failed to take action.

Paisley's condition continued to deteriorate over the next two days. On June 8, Byrd saw Paisley rolled up into a ball, sweating profusely and walking painfully to the shower," the lawsuit contended. Moreover, other juveniles told Byrd, as they had the day before, that Paisley was vomiting and that his sheets were stained with diarrhea. Unmoved, Byrd decided against informing medical and instead told Paisley to sweat it out.
By June 9, Paisley was so ill he could barely move. Helpless, Paisley languished in bed amid his own urine and feces. As was the case the previous two days, a number of guards and medical personnel were aware of Paisley's condition but did little or nothing to help him. A case in point is guard supervisor Jack Harrington who addressed Paisley's need for emergency medical care by telling the youth to suck it up.

Early that afternoon prison Nurse Dianne Demeritte was informed that Paisley urgently needed medical attention. But like her coworker. Loperfido, nurse Demeritte did not respond until hours later. When she did check on Paisley at 8:15 p.m.. she noticed that he could barely move and was delusional. All Demeritte did, however, was authorize Paisleyss transfer to the hospital while derisively stating that he did not want to go near him because she might contaminate her children at home. After commenting that there's nothing wrong with his ass," Demeritte then immediately left her shift at around 8:30 p.m. (which was over an hour early), making no attempt to supervising Paisley's transfer.

Just before 9:00 p.m., guard supervisor Lawrence Corbett noticed that Paisley was slumped over in his chair and losing consciousness. Lawrence checked Paisley and found that his pulse was extremely weak and that he was not breathing. Unconscionably, though Lawrence and at least four other guards present were fully trained in first aid and CPR, they made no attempt to provide emergency medical care to Paisley, the lawsuit contended.

What's more, guards were not permitted to call 911 pursuant to Miami-Dade policy and were subject to disciplinary action if they did. In fact, several years earlier, Miami-Dade had arranged for 911 calls from Paisley's housing area to be blocked.

Without a nurse on the unit and the guards standing idly by, Paisley slid into unconsciousness and lost his pulse. Only then was he transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital. But it was too late. Paisley was pronounced dead on arrival at 9:58 p.m. from a ruptured appendix.

According to the resulting 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami-Dade had been warned for years about the lack of proper health care at it's detention center." One DJJ health care expert, Jane B. McNeele, confirmed this when she testified before a state legislative panel investigating Paisley's death.

McNeele called medical care at Miami-Dade a train wreck" and said she had been cautioning her superiors about problems at the prison for nine years.
In the wake of Paisley's death, roughly 25 Miami-Dade personnel were fired or resigned. The fired included Secretary W.G. Bankhead and top prison administrators George LaFlam and Victor Davidson. (Davidson, it was later revealed, had been arrested four times and received 11 reprimands since he was hired in 1978).

Loperfido and Demeritte, both of whom falsified Paisley's medical records following his death, were each criminally charged with aggravated manslaughter and third degree murder. Their cases are pending.

Attorney Lorenzo Williams said he hopes the settlement will foster changes in the way medical care is handled at the prison. Hopefully, this lawsuit will cause the Miami Juvenile Detention Center to clean up its act, and it will cause Miami Children's Hospital to recognize that, if you accept the responsibility of providing services to detainees, you have to give that facility first-class, competent medical service at all times.

The family was represented by attorneys Lorenzo Williams and Paul McMahon of the Fort Pierce, Florida, law firm Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando. See: Williams v. Variety Children's Hospital, USDC SD FL, Case No. 04-22079-CIV-UNGARO-BENAGES.

Additional source: The Miami Herald

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Related legal case

Williams v. Variety Children's Hospital