Eighteen Year-Old Left To Die in Juvenile Jail

Lockup’s medical log details teen’s death spiral

 Though Eric Perez screamed and retched all night at the Palm Beach juvenile lockup, he was not seen by a nurse until 7:51 a.m., a log indicates. By then it was too late.

Eric Perez

By the time paramedics arrived at the West Palm Beach lockup to treat Eric Perez, the 18-year-old — jailed on a marijuana possession charge — showed only a “flat line” on a heart monitor.

Though Eric had been screaming and retching all night long, lockup administrators failed to call 911 until well after dawn. A detention center healthcare log provided Wednesday to The Miami Herald shows the youth was not examined by a medical professional until 7:51 a.m. Four minutes later, the log shows, lockup staff called a “code white,” indicating the youth’s condition had become critical.

The death of Eric Perez, who grew up in Port St. Lucie, is the most recent tragedy to rock Florida’s long-troubled Department of Juvenile Justice, which has been gripped by a cycle of scandal and short-lived reform for years.

In 2003 and 2004, administrators promised they would “treat every child as if he were your own’’ after guards and nurses at the Miami lockup waited three days before calling an ambulance for Omar Paisley, who also was dead before paramedics could help him. The agency hired a statewide medical director, posted signs throughout the 22 detention centers authorizing guards to call 911 at the first hint of an emergency, and beefed up medical care — including providing healthcare on-site at the Miami lockup 24 hours a day.

In an interview with The Herald Tuesday, Secretary Wansley Walters suggested poor decision-making — not policies, procedures, training or money — was responsible for Eric’s death.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Ronda Storms, who serves on the powerful Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and chairs the Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee, said she asked Walters to brief her on the youth’s death. “The secretary told me there was no question at all that 911 should have been called,” Storms said.

“There was no evidence he was acting out,” said the Valrico Republican. “He was a good kid. He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do. If this is how they treat the good kids, how do they treat the kids who are acting out? That’s a scary proposition.”

According to the medical log, four guards and a nurse, none of whom are named, were in the room with Eric in his final moments, with two other guards outside. “One officer doing rescue breathing and me doing chest compressions,” the nurse wrote. At 8 a.m., paramedics arrived, connected the youth to their own defibrillator and began doing chest compressions themselves, the log says.

“Their machine got a flat line,” the nurse wrote. “They said [there was] nothing they could do; the police would then take over from there.”

The progress notes’ last item contains only one word: “deceased.”

Eric, who turned 18 eight days before he died, was stopped June 29 while riding his bicycle because the bike did not have a night light, sources told The Herald. During the stop, officers found a small amount of marijuana on the teen. Because he already was on probation for a years-old robbery charge, Eric was sent to the detention center. He was five feet, eight inches tall, and weighed 120 pounds. A picture of the teen attached to the log shows a youthful-looking kid with a thick Afro and his mouth partly agape. He had a tattoo on his right arm, and was missing a tooth.

At admission, Eric told lockup staff he had smoked marijuana three hours earlier, “one hit.”

On Sunday, July 10, beginning around 1:30 a.m., Eric complained he had a severe headache, and began hallucinating that an imaginary person was on top of him. He had been throwing up for hours as guards sought “guidance” from a different nurse who did not answer her phone. Records say lockup supervisors and the facility’s superintendent instructed staff not to call 911.

Posted on Wed, June 20, 2011

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