Ryan’s words

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

Below I am posting the second guest blog, written by Ryan Holle, that gives a little insight into the basics of prison life.

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Thinking about what next to write about is not easy. Being raised by my mom, having my grandparents and other relatives around me, the one thing that they taught me – especially my mom – is what it means to be independent. Can you imagine a woman practically raising two children by herself and trying not to be dependent on others? She did awesome and I will always be grateful for her and my family in my life.

When I graduated high school, I left home at 17 and began my independence. I maintained that and prided myself on the fact that I was able to do so. When I got locked up I lost that. In prison there are no paying jobs – not to any great extent in Florida anyway. At the prison I was last at, on a compound of over 1,200 people, there were a handful of paying jobs. If you were lucky enough to be one of the five canteen operators or the one staff barber then you were able to make something. If you don’t have anyone out on the street to help you, you are out of luck.

Some people steal to make it by. Some tattoo, some deal in drugs, etc. That is just the nature of prison. In prison they give you three pairs of blues (that’s your uniform), three shirts, three boxers, three socks, two towels, two wash clothes, and a pair of what everyone nicknames “Bo-Bo’s”. They are the flat bottom slip-ons with elastic on both sides. Besides that, they give you two rolls of toilet paper a week, one bar of soap, one toothbrush, and one toothpaste once a month. Everything else in on you. If you want shampoo, deoderant, shower slides, toenail clippers, food items, shoes, etc. – then it is on you to find a way to purchase them.

A lot of people out there would say, “He doesn’t need to buy food items because they give him three meals a day”. But anyone familiar with prison food would find that statement very untrue. Being an independent person and calling home and asking for help is never easy. I am always grateful for the help I do get because like I tell my family, “You help me survive.”

Ryan Holle

In Ryan’s words

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

Ryan with his sister and mom during a December 2011 visit

This is the first guest blog I have hosted on here and I am really excited about it. I recently wrote about some of the people who have been sacrificing some of the last bit of privacy they have retained while incarcerated so that they can share their experiences with others. I feel that if more people did this it would be hard to ignore the problems that plague our justice system – mainly because it would become apparent that those who have suffered various forms of injustice are people, just like those reading the blogs that they write. Some have been wrongfully convicted, some have been overcharged, and some are guilty of their crimes but remorseful.

I approached Ryan Holle about writing a blog post. I have written about Ryan’s case a few times – most recently here. Also I maintain a website for his case here. I wasn’t sure if he would be interested or not, but I hoped that he would. That said, the following was written by Ryan:

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You know when I was asked to write for this blog my mind went a little scatterbrain. I mean seriously, I’m sitting in a 8′ by 12″ cell on a mat that is like 3″ thick and a light that is just enough to write with. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do the whole “woe is me” stuff. That train of thought will get you absolutely nowhere. Of course I never thought I would spend my 30th birthday and almost 10 years incarcerated either. I have hope though and that is what keeps me going.

You know it’s sad and hopefully it doesn’t make me sound crazy but even though I’m here I’m just thankful to be alive. I made a lot of poor decisions before I was incarcerated. It’s amazing how you can become so wrapped up in just what matters to you that you don’t see how your actions affect those that care for you. How can you adequately describe what it feels like to lose everything including your freedom?

If you have never been incarcerated then I pray that you never do. I could sit here and tell you everything that you have to go through but I’m not because that would just be a biased opinion from my perspective. I can tell you that it has been a crazy journey. On the day I was convicted a deputy who was escorting me back to the county jail after I just got a natural life sentence asked me if he could share some advice with me. As an inmate, trust me there are very few guards/police that care at all. He told me, “Don’t become an animal.” I have taken that to heart. I refuse to let prison dictate the person that I am.

I have learned a lot from being and try to be someone my family can be proud of. I really believe that you can do that even from in here. I have never been a writer besides in letters to family and friends. So, I hope you will excuse my poor penmanship. If there is one thing I could say it’s, “Be thankful for your freedom and cherish it.”

People tell me a lot that they can’t believe that I have been incarcerated for nearly 10 years and have an upbeat attitude. They are surprised that I smile a lot. In my mind this is just a part of the journey that is my life and I believe with all my heart that one day I will be free!!

The first page of Ryan Holle's guest blog.

Page one

Page two

Page two

What will it take to free Ryan Holle?

Ryan with his parents during a June visit

Ryan with his parents during a June visit

Ryan Holle was convicted of felony murder in 2004. He did not participate in the murder or the burglary that precipitated it, but because he loaned his car to a roommate and it was used by those who perpetrated the crime, Ryan experienced the same consequence as those directly involved: life without any possibility of parole.

I have told Ryan’s story previously, but it is one I am particularly compelled to repeat because of the gross injustice this man has experienced. When I first learned about Ryan’s predicament I had a hard time believing it. I kept thinking there had to be something about his story I was missing. I first thought that perhaps he had a prior criminal history that prompted the prosecutor to come down harder on him. Upon learning this was not true I felt I should reach out to Ryan to learn about him as a person and try to understand the extreme sentence he was given.

Ryan was convicted under the Felony Murder Rule. This law exists in the majority of states in some capacity. Typically, states like Florida use this rule to hold anyone deemed as a participant in a crime equally culpable. The name of this law reflects the fact that it may be applied when a death occurs during the commission of a homicide. The sentencing is as severe as if the person committed first degree murder, even in cases where the resulting death was an unintended consequence of the felony component of the crime.

Some claim this rule is fair and is intended to act as a deterrent, but the truth is it does not deter crime because many people have no idea what felony murder is or how it works.

Just this month, five teenagers in Indiana allegedly broke into a home during the evening hours. The homeowner, upon hearing the commotion, grabbed his gun. He fired many shots, killing one of the intruders and wounding 16 year-old Blake Layman. As shots rang into the air, the teenagers scrambled to escape. One was so frightened by the man and his gun he jumped through a window to get away.

All of the surviving teenagers are being charged with felony murder. The prosecutor, Curtis Hill, is justifying this charge (which exposes these teens to life without parole sentences per the state’s statutes) by claiming he needs to use this case as an example. He is doing this as though the loss of one young man’s life is not a salient enough wake up call.

That is not to say there should be no additional consequence at all. Blake Laymon has no prior record. He made a very poor decision when he accompanied the group to the home, but should he receive a life without parole sentence because the homeowner shot and killed a member of the group? Absolutely not.

The prosecutor in the above case has the ability to charge the teenagers appropriately – without seeking an egregious sentence that will not deter future crime (it hasn’t so far in the many states this rule is applied in). Whatever happened to charging people with the crime they actually committed? I hear they do this in some countries, but it is a concept that is completely foreign to me since I live in the United States.

Three states have deemed the felony murder rule completely unconstitutional. Some may support the above prosecutor’s decision, but people who have teenagers or care about the welfare of teenagers in general, are going to find this decision hard to comprehend. It also sets a dangerous precedent for prosecutors throughout Indiana, and in states where this kind of charge is allowed.

Ryan as a child, with his family

Ryan as a child, with his family

But back to Ryan.

I spoke to Ryan about sharing his story in more detail with others and he said that was something he wanted to do. He began by explaining the Felony Murder Rule and how it works in Florida. He then said, “In my case, I was sleeping after a house party, hungover…I overheard talking about going over to Jessica’s house (the victim) and talk about robbing her. They were laughing, but at the same time they talked about getting food. I never took it serious because the guy living with me at the time, William Allen, dated her on and off.” The discussion about getting food threw him off as well.

Believing his roommate was not serious about stealing from Jessica, and only intended to use the car  to get food, Ryan gave him his car keys. He had loaned his car to the roommate without incident in the past and so he did not have any reason to believe this time would be different.

“Due to the fact that I heard that conversation and gave the keys to my car, under the Felony Murder Rule, I am just as guilty as the guy who committed the murder.” He added that the night before Jessica had been at his house.

I asked Ryan what his reaction was to being arrested and charged with felony murder. “I was stunned,” he answered. “From the start I cooperated with investigators and told them all I knew, not knowing that they were treating me as a suspect. I wasn’t even arrested for almost a month after the crime happened. It was literally out of the blue that I was being arrested”.

He then talked about the method the investigators used to arrest him. “On the day I was arrested, I got a phone call telling me that my car (which was driven by the four men to commit the crime) was ready to be picked up from the county impound. When I got there the investigator, Jimmy Sanderson, told me that he wanted to talk to me for a minute”.

The investigator took him to an  interrogation room and asked Ryan to sit down. The investigator also sat down and then another detective came into the room. He said, “We think you had something more to do with it…we are arresting you on an open count of murder”.

Ryan said he never believed that it would all lead to him being convicted and sentenced to life without parole. “I’ve been incarcerated for almost ten years,” he said to me. “I’m 29 years old and have a life sentence, without the possibility of parole”.

On November 17, Ryan will turn 30 in prison. Nearly a decade of his life will have passed in that environment.

Before his arrest in 2003

Before his arrest (which happened in 2003)

I asked Ryan about his life at the time all of this took place. I was curious about what was happening when his life was suddenly and irreparably interrupted by these events, and the fateful decision that he made while he was still intoxicated from the house party earlier in the evening.

“My life at the time was to be honest, chaotic.” He added, “I had recently lost my job as a delivery driver for an egg company due to the fact I suffered some muscle damage around my right eye in a car accident.” He explained that he was renting a place with a couple of his friends and his sister.

“I had recently split with a long-time girlfriend who helped me in more areas than I realized. I was actually trying to attend college,” he said. “I wanted to go back to school to become a software engineer. I’ve always been a fan of video games and I wanted to be a part of that industry.”

I wanted to know what Ryan’s first year in prison was like. He said that it was “like all my years…hard. There is no feeling like having freedom taken away from you. I’ve always been able to provide for myself, but when you’re incarcerated you have to rely on others. Granted, I would rather have someone to rely on than no one at all.”

“Imagine being 20 years old,” he said, “and being thrust into an environment where not only are you oppressed by guards, but surrounded by people that don’t care anything about you.”

He said that experience forced him to grow up quickly. “I could sit here and curse, mope, and moan about my situation. It still doesn’t change the fact that I’m here.” Since I first began writing to Ryan he informed me, repeatedly, that he has a strong desire to find ways to better himself – even though he is in prison and his options are limited. He has said this to me in light of the fact that his sentence prohibits his eventual release.

“I can still grow as a person even in this environment,” he explained to me. “I used to be real self-centered in a lot of ways until my first visit in prison where my mom and stepfather told me how my attitude had effected not only them, but my friends and family. That hit me hard. I want to be someone that my family can be proud of, even if I’m here.”

Ryan as a child

Ryan as a child

Whoever Ryan used to be many years ago, he is a different person now. He is funny – with a sense of humor that has probably helped him cope during some of the harder times in prison. He is intelligent and thoughtful as well. We have discussed everything from movies to the problems with the justice system as we perceive them.

Ryan describes himself as an easy-going person “who likes to smile and make others smile.” He says that he is also passionate about his family.

“My views of the justice system have changed,” he informed me. “It’s real easy to believe in it when you have never been a part of it.” Ryan’s arrest and subsequent conviction was a wake up call to him of the worse kind.

I can relate to this because if someone had asked me when I was 20 years-old if the justice system was fair I would have answered that it was. I had no real concept of wrongful convictions or excessive sentencing practices. My views have changed dramatically as well.

Ryan recounted something that happened just before his trial that could have changed his fate. “Prior to the trial I was offered a plea deal of second degree murder and ten years. My lawyer told me not to take it because there was no way I would be convicted. The state attorney offered me that plea deal because he stated that he didn’t believe I was as culpable as my co-defendants. Yet under the Felony Murder Rule I got natural life”. This has weighed heavily on Ryan. “In hindsight, should I have taken the plea deal considering the severity of the felony murder rule? Absolutely. I actually would have gone home last October if I would have.”

An additional challenge for Ryan has been learning to understand the courts and justice system. “As a pro-se litigant I have had to learn how to research and do my own motions to the courts. The courts give deadlines on filing certain motions. What it takes a lawyer 8-plus years to learn, an inmate has to learn in less than two. I am currently in the federal courts yet my Federal Habeas Corpus petition may not be heard because my appellate counsel advised me about the deadline and he was mistaken. Due to that fact my petition may never be heard. Even though I have a legitimate claim”.

Ryan is keeping himself busy by seeking educational opportunities within the prison. Recently he passed a test that has allowed him to become involved in a vocational training program. He started the program this week.

The sad part is that Ryan’s case is one of too many. In 2010, Charles Grodin wrote a letter to the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He has spoken out about the Felony Murder Rule, citing Ryan’s case as an example of how it is unjust. In his letter, he wrote, “Last year I met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the felony murder rule, which is felt by many to be the most heinous piece of legislation we have in America. Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, currently the President of the Governor’s Association is very supportive, as is Orrin Hatch”.

Grodin ended his letter by stating, “We represent five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. As Senator Webb recently said so eloquently, ‘We are either the most evil people on the earth, or there’s something wrong with our justice system.’ I don’t believe we’re the most evil people on earth,” he concluded.

Ryan’s case is a travesty of justice. This man does not belong in prison. He has much to offer society and he is willing to work hard and pave his own way. However, to get this kind of chance he’s at the mercy of those in a position of power who have the authority to help him. One of those people is the governor of Florida, Rick Scott. If Ryan’s situation has outraged you, or even seems unfair, please take a moment to let the governor know your thoughts by clicking here.

You may also take a moment to sign a petition started by Floridian John Hart. John learned of Ryan’s case and felt compelled to do something to try to help. Over 1,300 people have signed the petition on behalf of Ryan:

https://www.change.org/petitions/governor-rick-scott-state-of-florida-pardon-ryan-holle

The petition has given Ryan a renewed sense of hope in that he now knows there are people out there who see this injustice for what it is and feel he should be released.

Ryan is grateful for any help and support he can get. If you would like to write a letter of support to Ryan, please use the following address:

Ryan Holle 0-126321/B4-2130
Graceville Correctional Facility
5168 Ezell Road
Graceville, FL 32440

Learn more about Ryan’s case and others by visiting my site at ryanholle.com.

Florida legislators acknowledge a need for change

The Florida Times Union published an article today describing the sentiments of some of its state legislators with regard to the 10-20-life statutes. Some of you may have become familiar with these laws because of Marissa Alexander’s case. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey sought this punishment for Marissa after she fired what has been described as a “warning shot” into the wall of the family home. Marissa claimed she did so in self-defense. She was charged with three counts of aggravated assault (with a deadly weapon), convicted, and sentenced to the mandatory penalty of 20 years because she had been charged with domestic battery four months before the incident.

The penalty has been a major point of contention across the state, emphasizing some very problematic aspects of Florida legislation. Marissa’s case is just one example of how these statutes are used, however.  Another case has received far less attention, but is perhaps one of the most unjust applications of the law in recent times.

Ronald Thompson is 65 years old. He served his country for 14 years as an Army veteran. He has many chronic health conditions, including diabetes, vision problems, and heart disease. He was charged with four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2009 after having fired his gun into the ground to scare off teenagers who were involved in a heated argument with Thompson’s grandmother. He did not injure anyone. It does not appear he was intending to injure anyone. However, the jury convicted him of all counts and he was sentenced to the mandatory penalty of 20 years in prison.

Thompson will die in prison as a result of this if nothing changes – a man who served America for well over a decade.

Guess who we have to thank for the charges? Florida State Attorney Angela Corey. Again. If you ask her why she is doing this to people she will probably say it is because she has a duty to follow the law. Indeed, she does. However, she also has discretion when it comes to when and how she charges people. We have seen this with her handling of Marissa Alexander’s case and the case of 13 year old Cristian Fernandez, who was 12 when charged with felony murder which carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

All of this brings me to the point of this article, which is that Florida state legislators recognize the state has unjust legislation. The Florida Times Union polled 14 of the legislators and determined that 11 expressed a willingness to “re-examine the laws for ways to improve them”.

So when will they get around to doing this? Representative Audrey Gibson went so far as to say that failure to re-examine these harmful laws is a “dereliction of duty.” She criticized the task force’s activity (or lack thereof) with regard to the now infamous Stand your Ground legislation.

Representative Mia Jones stated she was against mandatory minimums across the board. This tells me there are representatives who know the legislation is immoral and unethical, but have not yet taken action to change it.

It means they will be amenable to changing or repealing the felony murder rule as well.

Since there is no apparent action to change these laws as of yet, this means we must demand the changes before the laws claim more casualties. You can begin by requesting the elimination of the felony murder rule in Florida. You don’t need to live in Florida to sign the petition either.

You may also write to the Florida state representatives and demand action. Enough is enough. They say they know that change is needed. They say they are willing to re-examine bad law.

Tell them that words are not enough. Words are nothing without action.

Contact Florida’s House Speaker, Dean Cannon, here:

Email him by clicking here.

The Honorable Dean Cannon, Speaker
Florida House of Representatives
420 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Tell representatives Audrey Gibson and Mia Jones to take action to end these unjust laws once and for all.

Email Audrey Gibson: gibson.audrey.web@flsenate.gov

Email Mia Jones by clicking here.

More information on contacting representatives is here.

It only takes a couple of minutes to speak your mind and make a difference. Please do it and encourage others to do the same.

The investigation into the death of Eric Perez

Eric Perez

Eric Perez

Eric Perez was just days into his eighteenth year when his life ended suddenly. The circumstances surrounding his death are both tragic and disturbing. Eric died within the care of the Palm Beach Regional Detention Center where he was incarcerated because he had been caught with a small amount of marijuana while riding a bike with a broken light.

The offense was relatively minor, but the consequences weren’t.

The Incident

In March 0f 2012, State Attorney Michael McAuliffe released the grand jury presentment pertaining to Eric’s death. The document contains information about the last hours of the young man’s life based on interviews, reports, and surveillance video. The picture painted by State Attorney McAuliffe, to the grand jury, is not a pleasant one.

On the evening of July 9th of 2011, Eric accompanied the other male juveniles from module B-2 to the cafeteria to eat some snacks. It was almost 8 p.m. Before leaving the cafeteria, the three officers that brought the boys began conducting searches to ensure that no one took any of the snacks with them upon leaving.

The officers and the youths were observed on video joking and laughing during the process. The report states, “The DJJ officers also appeared to be engaging in horseplay with the youths while the searches took place.”

At some point, Eric was accused of trying to take a snack back to where he was housed. Though the report describes the officers and the youths as laughing during the search, it also points out that during the search Eric was “roughly tossed in the air, striking the wall and/or floor with his head and/or shoulder as he came back down.”

Eric left the cafeteria appearing unsteady on his feet. Within a fairly short amount of time the report stated that Eric once again appeared normal. He was sent to bed at about 9:30 p.m.

At about 1:30 a.m. Eric’s cell mates called an officer into the are because Eric was screaming. His cries became louder as he yelled for someone to “get it off me, get it off me.” The officer who responded reported that Eric was hallucinating and subsequently called the supervisor.

By the time the supervisor arrived, Eric was staggering around inside his cell. The officers asked Eric to leave the cell, which he did by crawling since he did not appear to be able to stand. Eric laid down on the floor and rolled from side to side. He screamed that his head hurt.

While Eric lay on the floor, the officers began to review his medical chart. The report states that Eric “then rose to his feet, using the wall for balance, before he stumbled forward, fell, and appeared to strike his head on the corner of the table.”

The officers observed all of this take place, but no one did anything to help the teen. Instead, Eric was given a mattress pad to lie down on in the common area of the facility. Officers helped him onto the pad and then covered him with sheet. Eric appeared to fall asleep on the pad.

At about 2:22 a.m., Eric awoke. He rolled off his mattress and then vomited on the floor. He also lost control of his bowels and was reported as defecating in his clothing. and underwear. Officers tried to help Eric to his feet but he could not stand.

Despite the alarming turn of events, no attempt was made to contact 911 or to seek medical assistance for the teen. It was not until 2:39 a.m. that the supervisor made the first call to the superintendent of the facility. He reported that Eric was vomiting. The supervisor was advised to contact the nurse. He called the nurse twice between 2:39 a.m. and 3:07 a.m. The calls went unanswered and the report specified that the nurse was no on call.

The supervisor again contacted the superintendent at 3:08 a.m., informing him that he was unable to get in touch with the nurse but that everything with Eric appeared to be okay because he was sleeping.

The grand jury was presented with testimony that the supervisor was overheard saying “he did not want to call 911 because he thought the youth was faking and he did not want to fill out extra paperwork.”

The bigger problem, in the eyes of the officers, appeared to be the smell that accumulated as a result of Eric having lost control of his bowels. The officers made attempts to clean around Eric. Video surveillance showed the officers mopping the area, but failing to check on Eric.

At about 5:15 a.m. one of the officers attempted to help Eric stand so he could take a shower. The teen was unable to stand up and so the officers dragged him by the mattress pad into what is known as a medical confinement cell. Pillows were placed around the teen and he was covered with sheets. Eric could be heard snoring.

No further attempts were made to contact a nurse or the superintendent. 911 had still not been contacted.

The last visible movement from Eric occurred at 7 a.m. His arms, which had been placed at his sides, moved slightly. An examination of the video by the medical examiner revealed that this movement was “decerebrate posturing”, indicating that this was the time when Eric died.

The female officer continued to report checking on Eric every ten minutes; however, evidence was presented to the grand jury that the officer was checking on a youth who had already been deceased for about an hour.

At 7:51 a.m. another officer became concerned because he did not hear Eric snoring anymore. He checked for a pulse and noted that the teen was “cold to the touch.”

At 7:57 a.m. a call was finally made to 911. Eric was pronounced dead shortly upon their arrival at 8:09 a.m.

The Policies

The report describing the presentment to the grand jury indicated that the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center had policies and procedures pertaining to contacting 911. Employees are directed to contact 911 if a “potentially life threatening medical emergency arises.” If a youth experiences medical difficulties that are of an unknown severity level the officers are to send the individual to the clinic or call a nurse to conduct a further assessment.

The facility had signs posted prominently throughout stating that staff members maintained the right to call 911 if they believed a situation was potentially life-threatening. However, this did not occur in Eric’s situation.

All incidents are also to be referred to the Central Communications Center (CCC). A review of the detention facilities practices showed that between July 1st of 2011 and July 10th of 2011, 107 reports and/or calls were made to emergency services from the facility. Despite the policy requiring the facility to report these incidents to the CCC, only eight were ultimately reported to the CCC.

Prior to Eric’s death, officers involved in the incident had received training – some within weeks of the event – regarding the policies and procedures regarding handling a youth in custody who appeared sick or injured. Officers are taught during that training that they can contact 911 at their own discretion without receiving approval from a supervisor.

But in Eric’s case, no one did.

Grand Jury Findings

The grand jury found that the staff at the detention center were insufficiently trained when it came to identifying early warning signs of a potentially life threatening situation. They further indicated that the facility needed to provide  an around-the-clock trained medical professional for the purpose of evaluating youth who might be experiencing a life-threatening emergency.

The grand jury also found that officers were engaging in “inappropriate relationships with their youth wards”. This was made in reference to video surveillance that showed “several youths being treated in a rough manner by the DJJ officers.”

The report states:

At one point, many of the youths are seen pointing at Mr. Perez as if he had the prohibited snack in his possession. Two DJJ officers are then seen lifting Mr. Perez, one by Mr. Perez’s head, and one by his feet. Mr. Perez is turned upside down and dropped onto the floor or nearby wall hitting his head and/or should area. Throughout the interaction in the cafeteria, the youths laugh and joke with the DJJ officers and appear to treat the entire interaction like a game. The DJJ officers do nothing to discourage this behavior.

The DJJ has and had policies prohibiting that type of interaction, but they were not followed.

In addition to the above, the grand jury also cited inappropriate reactions to the medical needs of residents on the part of officers. They pointed to the lack of care provided when Eric experienced hallucinations, head pain, and other signs of clear distress.

The officers’ response to Mr. Perez’s hallucinations, instability and cries of pain were to simply observe him as he lay on the floor vomiting and defecating in his underwear. More effort was spent cleaning the floor around the youth than attending to his welfare.

The Autopsy

An autopsy revealed that Eric died from a cerebral hemorrhage. The autopsy did not find that the teen had external trauma that would have caused the bleeding, despite the video showing he injured his head. The medical examiner’s office was unable to determine if Eric’s death could have been prevented.

Specialists, including one in neuropathology, reviewed the video and the medical evidence in an attempt to determine if the hemorrhage was caused by the injury or if medical intervention could have prevented the youth’s death. They were unable to make this determination.

Despite the efforts of four forensic pathologists and one practicing neuropathologist, there is not sufficient evidence establishing the specific cause of the cerebral hemorrhage that resulted in Mr. Perez’s death or whether prompt medical attention could/would have saved his life. Thus, no criminal charges are appropriate. As a result, the manner of death is undetermined.

The grand jury indicated that criminal charges could not be brought against anyone in reference to child neglect because they did not feel that Eric met the criteria of “child” according to the statutes.

Recommendations

The grand jury report contained several recommendations. The first was that the correctional officers at the facility receive extensive training.

The second was that the policies and procedures be modified to contain the requirement that officers must seek an evaluation by a medical professional for youths complaining of a medical condition.

The third recommendation was that the facility needed to have a medical professional on site at all times for the purpose of performing such a medical evaluation. “The officers should be required to call 911 for outside medical assistance.”

Finally, the report recommended that the legislature should “enact a statute addressing the criminal neglect of anyone in the care of custody of the DJJ.”

Aftermath

In mid July two officers working for the facility were fired after having been placed on administrative leave following Eric’s death. Though the facility had not confirmed the reason for their termination, the media drew a correlation between Eric’s death and the dismissing of the officers. The same report indicated that Eric was scheduled for release from the facility within a week.

By the beginning of August, the media had reported that the state was refusing to pay for Eric’s funeral expenses, despite everything that occurred while he was in the custody of the DJJ. One article stated:

Juvenile justice administrators had offered to pay up to $5,000 in funeral costs to bury 18-year-old Eric Perez, who died at the West Palm Beach detention center on July 10. But after the state cut a check to the Tillman Funeral Home, Florida’s chief financial officer ordered that the check be destroyed, records show.

The article also indicated that this would not have the first time a youth’s funeral was covered by the state. The same article stated that five corrections officers were suspended because of the incident, along with Anthony C. Flowers, the facility’s superintendent.

In terms of the recommended changes, only time will tell if they are implemented.

Eric’s death is unsettling for many reasons. The lack of response to the rapid onset of his symptoms is perhaps the most troubling, although I was really disgusted to read that the state issued a check to assist in paying for the funeral, only to put a stop on it.

Eric has not been the only youth in Florida to die within the custody of a detention facility. Omar Paisley died in a Miami-Dade Detention Center in 2003, after spending three days in his cell writhing in pain due to an appendicitis attack.

Speaking Out

If you are equally disturbed by what you have read there are actions you can take toward ensuring the recommendations provided in the grand jury report are put into effect. The first thing you can do is contact the Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, and urge her to monitor implementation of the recommendations. Her contact information is available here.

You can also share Eric’s story and ask others to take action as well. Please help to prevent the death of another youth in Florida’s detention facilities. Sending an email costs nothing and it could have a significantly positive impact if our voices are heard and acknowledged.

Another action you can take is to contact legislators within Florida to modify statutes relating to child neglect or abuse to ask that all youth detained within the state’s facilities be included in the description of children who qualify for protection under the law. You may find contact information for Florida House Representatives here.

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