Lockup has no medical staff at night, nurse says
The state’s juvenile justice chief said budget constraints were not a factor in last
week’s death at a juvenile jail. But a nurse said the facility has no medical staffing
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
After Omar Paisley died of a burst appendix in a Miami-Dade juvenile lockup eight years ago, juvenile justice
administrators announced sweeping reforms, including on-site medical care around the clock at the Miami facility.
When Eric Perez died Sunday, July10 at the Palm Beach County juvenile jail, there were no doctors or nurses on
duty, according to the nurse jailers say they tried in vain to reach.
“Nobody works there at night,” Diana Heras said of lockup medical staff. “There is no state funding for night nurses
for any night of the week. They do not have a nurse who works at that ... facility on the night shift, and they do not
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters, at the helm for just half a year when 18-year-old Eric
perished at the West Palm Beach lockup, said Florida’s historic budget woes — which prompted lawmakers to trim
tens of millions in juvenile justice spending this year — are not to blame for his death last week.
Medical care at the lockup is overseen by a private entity under contract with the state, but neither Walters nor Heras
would name the healthcare provider Tuesday.
Since the youth’s death from an as-of-yet undisclosed ailment, agency administrators and spokespeople have
declined to discuss the incident in any detail. Walters, who headed Miami’s well-regarded juvenile assessment center
before accepting DJJ’s top job, spoke for the first time Tuesday, though she still declined to discuss events leading to
Some of Eric’s final agonizing hours — which began as early as 1:30 a.m. and ended with his 8:09 a.m. death —
were captured on lockup videotape, DJJ administrators have confirmed. Walters’ agency won’t release the video
depicting Eric’s final hours, but sources say it doesn’t bode well for the lockup staff.
The footage, sources told The Miami Herald, depicts Eric’s limp body being dragged on a cot or mat from his room to
a common area of the lockup and then back again — a sign that guards knew he was terribly ill and were worried he
would infect other lockup detainees.
Palm Beach County’s public defender, Carey Haughwout, suggested Monday that years worth of budget cuts may
have contributed to last week’s scandal. One of the guards on duty said he was working a double shift the day Eric,
who was being held on a robbery charge, died. And Cathy Craig-Myers, who heads the Florida Juvenile Justice
Association, said DJJ’s current spending plan, which took effect July 1, contains $77 million fewer dollars than last
Walters said, however, that the trims have not affected safety or security at any of the state’s 22 detention centers,
as guards continue to patrol dormitories with scores of empty beds statewide.
Walters, who is generally regarded as a juvenile justice reformer, said her agency’s procedures — many of which
were put in place following Omar’s 2003 appendicitis death — also were sufficient to protect Eric, had they been
“The policies were there. The training was there. The posters were everywhere,” Walters said, referring to signs that
were posted in detention centers throughout the state in the wake of Omar’s June 9, 2003 death. The posters
reminded guards, supervisors and nurses that all facility staff was permitted to call 911 for a detainee in crisis —
even without the permission of lockup chiefs.
Omar died after pleading with guards and nurses for three days for medical care. Guards later testified their bosses
forbade them to call for an ambulance.
“This is certainly one thing I have prayed never would happen,” Walters said of Eric’s death.
Two West Palm lockup employees — a guard and a supervisor — were fired last week following Eric’s death. In a
heavily redacted letter to the supervisor, Terence Dayron Davis, that was released to The Herald, juvenile justice
administrators said “any reasonable person…would have deemed this a medical emergency” and sought an
“You failed to call 911,” the July 11 letter states.
Davis could not be reached Tuesday for comment. On Monday, the fired guard, Floyd Powell, told The Herald he
wanted desperately to call 911, but was told by both a supervisor and the lockup’s now-suspended superintendent,
Anthony Flowers, to call the nurse, Heras, for “guidance” instead. But she could not be reached.
Though Walters did not say so directly, she implied Tuesday that poor decision-making — not agency policy — was
responsible for the youth’s death.
“Changing the culture of the agency,” Walters said, “is something that is critically important.”
Miami Herald political writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.