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Detainee Dies After Two Days in Florida Jail Where Armor Correctional Allegedly Denied Heart Transplant Rejection Meds

by Jo Ellen Nott

Dexter Barry, 54, waited 12 years to receive a new heart. He even moved to Jacksonville to receive the life-saving transplant in 2020. In just two days in late November 2022, however, a stay in the Duval County Jail (DCJ) undid the miraculous $4-million surgery when Barry was denied the medication needed to keep his body from rejecting the new heart, and it failed.

Barry had argued with a disabled neighbor on November 18, 2022, over a shared wi-fi plan the neighbor was not paying for. The neighbor called police, claiming Barry verbally threatened him.  The respondin officer said, “I’m just going to separate you all for a cool-off period,” and he arrested Barry on a simple misdemeanor assault charge for threatening violence. During the arrest Barry told officers seven times about his heart transplant and the dire need to take the anti-transplant rejection drug. 

The next two days he spent in DCJ under the care of its private contracted healthcare provider, Armor Correctional Services. That turned into a death sentence that within a week left the soon-to-be grandfather dead from cardiac arrest. A pathologist hired by his family confirmed he died because his body rejected the heart.

DCJ records indicate Barry had a medical screening at booking, when guards noted his heart transplant and required medications, including his prescription for Mycophenolate, an immunosuppressant used to keep a patient’s body from rejecting a new organ. But a log of medications given Barry at the jail shows he never received Mycophenolate. 

Barry had not memorized his children’s phone numbers, so he was not able to reach them during the two days he spent in jail. After his death, his daughter, Janelle, noticed that blood pressure and cholesterol medications were provided by Armor Correctional – but not the crucial anti-rejection drug. Janelle King said she is now tormented knowing the healthcare contractor did not give her father the most important medicine his transplanted heart needed.

“We all know now that my dad’s rejection meds were the most expensive meds he took,” she said. “So all this can be about is money.”

Armor Correctional’s contract with DCJ should never have been renewed in November 2022 because Florida law prohibits public agencies from signing contracts with companies that have been convicted of a public-entity crime. Armor Correctional had already agreed with Milwaukee County in 2019 to pay a $6.75 million settlement after detainee’s death there. [See: PLN, Feb. 2021, p.34.]But because no pre-contract review was performed at DCJ, officials were unaware that the firm was then found criminally liable in October 2022 on seven midemeanor counts of falsifying records in that death and ordered to pay a $175,000 fine.

DCJ’s contract with Armor Correctional dates to 2017. It was never put to bid but rather was “piggybacked” on an existing contract held by the firm with another municipal agency. “For a $98 million contract,” said attorney Andrew Bonderud, who represents the Barry, “why did the sheriff’s office or city not want to put it out for a competitive bid?”

“What did the Sheriff’s Office do to vet them?” he added. “I think the Sheriff’s Office has a lot to answer for.”

Sources:  First Coast News, The Tributary, WJXT

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