Nurses at the Orange County jail in Orlando, Florida accused a pretrial detainee of “faking” the painful symptoms that led him to plead for medical care. In reality he had sepsis – blood poisoning caused by an untreated infection – that ended up killing him.
On August 6, 2015, Max Gracia was approached by police looking for a black suspect in the armed robbery of an Orlando convenience store. Gracia, 22, fled and dove into a lake, where he was subdued by police with the help of a K-9 dog, which bit him on the left leg and thigh. After receiving treatment for the dog bite at Orlando Regional Medical Center, he was booked into jail on a charge of armed robbery.
Three days later, Gracia complained of “weakness and dizziness.” When he was unable to get out of bed to receive medication at his cell door, jail nurse Karen Clairmont interpreted that inability as an “implicit refusal for medication.” She failed to further check on his condition.
Guard Connie Wambush was ordered to write a disciplinary report that said Gracia was exhibiting insubordination and feigning illness, because the nurses were convinced he was “faking or exaggerating his medical conditions and inability to get up.”
According to jail documents, the next day Gracia was “twisting himself and moaning loudly on the bed,” and said he “can’t do it” as he slid onto the floor. A nurse wrote that he was “refusing all treatment.”
Sometime later that day, Gracia was found unresponsive in his cell. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead. An autopsy concluded his death was caused by septic shock from a deadly bacterial infection that had spread from the dog-bite wounds on his leg to his lungs. Since the wounds were received during the course of his arrest, the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
“You can’t treat a human being that way,” said Willine Gracia, Max’s mother. “It doesn’t matter about color, race. None of that matters. My son screamed and laid there in agony and pain, dying.”
“He was treated in a way that we wouldn’t treat the worst among us or a rabid animal,” added Mark NeJame, the attorney representing Gracia’s estate. “For four days, he languished in pain as infection and fever raged through his body, and ultimately he died without any care, concern or compassion apparently, shown by those who were charged with caring for him.”
A federal lawsuit filed by NeJame two years after Gracia’s August 10, 2015 death seeks to force changes at the jail, citing a “culture of neglect” at the facility. The defendants in the case include Orange County, medical director Robert J. Buck and jail nurses Clairmont, Maryanne Evans, Elra Galloza-Gonzalez and Lynn Marie Harter.
An internal jail investigation found the nurses fell short of medical care standards. Clairmont resigned while the review was pending, and has refused all interviews. Evans, a nurse practitioner, was reprimanded and later filed for bankruptcy, while Galloza-Gonzalez is awaiting a hearing. In June 2016, Orange-Osceola State’s Attorney Jeff Ashworth announced that no charges would be filed against the nurses.
“It makes no difference whether somebody is in jail for littering on the sidewalk or multiple murders,” NeJame said. “Once they’re in the care or authority of the jail they are to be treated humanely and to be provided proper medical care. That was by all indications not done in [Gracia’s] case, and all the more confirmed by the subsequent reprimand and resignation” of the nurses involved.
The lawsuit, which remains pending, claims that jail staff were deliberately indifferent to Gracia’s serious medical needs, resulting in his preventable death. See: Bryant v. Orange County, Florida, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 6:17-cv-01423-GAP-KRS.
Additional sources: Orlando Sentinel, www.thedailybeast.com, www.clickorlando.com, www.orlandoweekly.com
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Related legal case
Bryant v. Orange County, Florida
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 6:17-cv-01423-GAP-KRS|