Court allows claims to stand in lawsuit filed by family of inmate who died in Orange County's jail

By Marian Johns | May 29, 2019

ORLANDO – The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently determined that claims against four Orange County correctional nurses and five correctional officers can stand in a case involving the death of a 75-year-old inmate who suffered a fractured neck after a use of force incident. 

According to the May 17 filing, the defendants, Orange County, Richard Wilkinson, Richard Leblanc, Ryan Wilson, James Nelson, Juan Padilla, Penelope Gray, Nancy Mendoza, Rodney Martin and Andrea Distin-Campbell, requested summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by plaintiff Carolyn Howard on behalf of William Howard's estate. 

In the lawsuit, William Howard's family alleged 13 counts including excessive force, indifference to Howard's medical needs, wrongful death and negligent hiring and retention regarding Howard's death while in custody at the Orange County jail. 

Howard, who suffered from hypertension, asthma/COPD, high cholesterol and glaucoma, was arrested in November 2016 for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon against his wife, court filings said. While in custody, he suffered confusion, refused to eat and would not move on his own to be transferred to a different cell. Despite conversations among the jail staff about how Howard should not be moved due to his mental state, video evidence shows the correctional officers pepper spraying, restraining and slamming Howard's head to the ground while moving him to another cell. After a couple of days of Howard barely moving, and at one point lying naked on his cell floor, he was on several occasions only being medically evaluated from a distance by correctional nurses. He then died due to a fractured neck.  

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Byron concluded that the nurse defendants showed deliberate indifference to his serious medical need and that it was clear Howard's constitutional rights were violated in denying the nurses' and correctional officer's motion for summary judgment. 

The court also granted Orange County's motion for summary judgment regarding the claim of negligent hiring and a motion to dismiss Carolyn Howard as an individual from the action. 

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