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Suit Filed After Mentally Ill Detainee Starves to Death in Miami Jail

by David M. Reutter

A civil rights action filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on July 1, 2023, alleged that officials at Miami-Dade County’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGKCC) were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of pretrial detainee Randy Heath, whose death at the jail was blamed at least in part on starvation.

Heath, 39, was booked into the lockup in April 2020 for allegedly tampering with his ankle monitor while on probation. A lifelong Miami resident, he worked at International House of Pancakes and lived in a group home for adults with mental illness and substance abuse issues. A former facilitator at the home recalls how Heath “loved to eat.” Indeed he stood 5 foot 10 inches tall and weighed 204 pounds. He was placed in TGKCC’s mental-health unit, since he had been in and out of the jail since 2019, and he had a documented history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The complaint later filed on his behalf noted that Heath entered the jail “able to bathe himself, shave, and communicate with the guards.” However, as months passed, his health deteriorated, leaving “a shell of a person,” the suit continued. Heath lay unattended on his cell floor for hours, at one point in his own urine and feces, his family said. TGKCC records show he was regularly prescribed medication for his mental illnesses, but a toxicology report detected no medicine in his system at the time of death. “Clearly, Heath was suffering and being unattended to, well before he … died,” the complaint declared.

Worse, at the time of his death, Heath weighed just 113 pounds. Autopsy photos reveal his emaciated body: ribcage and collarbone protruding, cheekbones sunken, arms and legs atrophied, with what appear to be bruises around his body. “He’s like a skeleton,” said his mother, Angela Heath. Last seen alive during a routine guard check early on the morning of July 18, 2021, Heath was found unresponsive when guards returned for another check some 20 minutes later.

The medical examiner blamed the death on ‘food asphyxia’ after finding a piece of orange blocking Heath’s airway; a contributory cause was pica, an eating disorder characterized by compulsively eating things that aren’t food. In Heath’s intestines were found bandages, a mustard packet and part of a peanut package.

“I mean, you put these individuals in jail in these facilities that just don’t have the ability to properly treat someone like Randy,” said Daryl Washington, a Texas-based civil rights attorney who represents Heath’s estate. “Anybody can see that something was majorly wrong with Randy, and that he was in a situation that required immediate medical attention.”

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for deliberate difference and loss of consortium. PLN will report case developments as they are available. See: Heath v. Miami-Dade Cty., USDC, (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 1:23-cv-22650.  


Additional source: Miami New Times

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Related legal case

Heath v. Miami-Dade Cty