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Nurse Pleads Guilty in Death of Florida Juvenile Prisoner

A former nurse at Florida’s Miami Regional Juvenile Detention Center has pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence related to the death of a teenage prisoner. The guilty plea comes five years after the death of 17-year-old Omar Paisley.

While detained on a battery charge, Paisley begged guards and nurses for medical care over a three-day period. No help was forthcoming until it was too late. On June 9, 2003, Paisley died due to a ruptured appendix. His death was described by family attorneys as “agonizing but entirely preventable.”

The negotiated plea bargain calls for former nurse Dianne Demeritte to serve one year on probation. She also “agrees that she will voluntarily relinquish her license to practice nursing again, and that she will never provide patient care to anyone outside of her own family,” Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin said in a letter. “Further, it is our understanding that Ms. Demeritte will apologize to the family of Omar Paisley.”

Without explanation, prosecutors dropped charges against a second nurse, Gaile Coperfido. Both Coperfido and Demeritte were originally charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder. Critics were upset with the outcome. “We have an issue here of fairness,” said Roy Miller, who heads the Florida Children’s Campaign, the state’s lead juvenile justice advocacy group. “We say to children that we will hold them accountable, but we don’t hold accountable the adults who hurt children.”

However, the plea agreement for a lesser charge is more punishment than has resulted when other Florida juveniles have been killed, such as 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson. In October 2007, seven boot camp guards and a nurse were acquitted on charges of aggravated manslaughter in connection with Anderson’s death. [See: PLN, June 2008, p.20; July 2007, p.11; July 2006, p.9].

Paisley’s death, nonetheless, resulted in systemic changes. “We now know that many persons were held responsible or accountable for Omar’s death,” said Lorenzo Williams, the attorney representing Paisley’s mother. “I think the parents of Omar would say if Omar’s death will prevent similar tragedies from occurring to another person or another child, then Omar’s death will not have been in vain.”

In October 2004, Paisley’s mother accepted a $1.45 million settlement from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, plus a confidential settlement from hospital officials, in a lawsuit filed over her son’s needless death. See: Williams v. Variety Children’s Hospital, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 1:04-cv-22079-UU.

Sources: Miami Herald, Miami Times

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