In July 2013, Armor Correctional Health Services agreed to settle a wrongful death suit by paying $800,000 to the family of Allen Daniel Hicks, Sr., who died after being denied medical care while incarcerated at a jail in Hillsborough County, Florida. The county paid another $200,000 to Hicks’ family.
On the morning of May 11, 2012, Hicks was observed swerving down Interstate 275. Highway Patrolman Justin Lunsford and Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Guzman found Hicks’ car parked against a guardrail. They were joined at the scene by fire rescue personnel.
Hicks responded incoherently when asked for his driver’s license. Once it became apparent he was too confused to find it, Guzman reached in and retrieved it from the car’s console. When Hicks’ left hand dropped to his side, the officers ordered him to show them his hands; when he did not immediately comply, they drew their service weapons. In his confused state, Hicks’ only reaction was to respond, “That’s a 9 millimeter semiautomatic gun that you have.” After determining he was not armed, Hicks was dragged from his car.
He did not smell of alcohol. And even though he was unable to move his left arm, the paramedics who examined him at the scene “found no medical problems.” But due to his erratic behavior they recommended that he be transported to a hospital for a psychological examination. The officers ignored the advice.
Instead, Hicks was taken to the Orient County Jail, where he did not receive an initial medical examination despite the fact that three nurses, employed by Armor, observed him when he was admitted. He was booked into the jail at 12:23 p.m.
Surveillance video showed that while being booked, Hicks’ left side was completely immobilized – a classic symptom of a stroke. His mobility was so impaired that his left foot dragged on the floor beside his wheelchair and he was unable to sign his name. Instead of receiving an examination, Hicks was thrown into a jail cell where he lay facedown for hours. One of the nurses was overheard saying he was faking an illness.
Before his first medical examination at 3:35 p.m., video showed Hicks lying mostly motionless in his cell. Occasionally his right side would twitch or he would attempt to crawl using only his right side. At around 5:50 p.m., Hicks was transferred to the Falkenburg Road Jail.
It was not until 12:10 p.m. on May 12, more than a day after he was booked, that Hicks was given a psychiatric exam by a social worker. “The employee noted that [Hicks] could not engage, smelled of urine, and complained of incontinence, and indicated that he could not use his legs or walk ... he had decreased psychomotor activity [and was] delusional with a poor memory.”
At about 10:30 p.m. an examining nurse finally concluded that Hicks may be suffering from a stroke. Over 36 hours from the time he was arrested, he was finally taken to a hospital. Physicians determined that Hicks had “...suffered a subacute ischemic stroke, which he had been suffering from for a considerable length of time ... he had suffered severe brain damage and it was too late to administer the appropriate treatment.” He died three months later.
A statement issued by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) admitted “that mistakes were made” by jail staff and Armor employees. Although the Sheriff’s Office “took immediate responsibility for its actions,” Armor was not as forthcoming.
The company declined to comment regarding its role in Hicks’ death. However, it defended its record in a written statement, saying, “Armor strives to deliver excellent patient care each and every day, no different than the finest teaching hospitals in our country.... And, like those outstanding hospitals, occasionally even great care results in an unintended outcome. ”
Yet the jail’s surveillance video indicated that the level of care Hicks had received from Armor employees at the jail was woefully substandard. Thea Clark, an attorney for the Sheriff’s Office, concluded, “There is no doubt in my mind that if plaintiff’s claims were presented to a jury, plaintiff would receive a judgment against HCSO in amounts that far exceed $200,000.”
As a result, the county – as well as Armor – decided to settle a wrongful death suit filed by Hicks’ estate. See: Stalley v. FL Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 8:13-cv-01892-VMC-TBM.
Shortly after Hicks’ death, Col. James Previtera of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office revoked the security clearance of both Lewis Hays, the top-ranking Armor administrator at the jail, and his assistant for “improperly handling” Hicks’ medical records. Privetera said the two employees had made “conflicting statements about the existence of records.”
Armor transferred Hays to the Pinellas County Jail to serve as the company’s administrator at that facility, but Sheriff Bob Gualtieri removed him and later canceled the county’s contract with the company in May 2014, citing “operational concerns.” Previously, Pinellas County had fined Armor over $150,000 for contractual violations.
“It just wasn’t working,” Sheriff Gualtieri stated. “I don’t think we can work out some of those differences.” He added: “The prudent thing to do is bring [medical care] back in-house.”
Armor has been criticized for providing inadequate medical care on numerous occasions; thus, it was not surprising that effective October 1, 2014, Hillsborough County terminated its contract with the company, too. The county awarded a new $20 million contract to NaphCare, another for-profit prison and jail medical provider.
“It was time to test the market and see what was out there,” said Hillsborough Sheriff’s Col. Kenneth Davis, who oversees jail operations. “NaphCare just had a better model ... for the delivery of health care. They are quick to identify and treat the needs of inmates.”
NaphCare provides medical services to several federal prisons in Florida, as well as a number of jails and state prisons across the country. The company, like Armor and most other for-profit correctional medical providers, also has a record of failing to provide adequate healthcare for prisoners.
Additional sources: www.tampabay.com, www.wfla.com
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Related legal case
Stalley v. FL Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 8:13-cv-01892-VMC-TBM|