Eric Perez died after suffering all night long, screaming and throwing up.
An 18-year-old Florida man has died after suffering a medical emergency while in jail on a marijuana charge. Records show that Superintendent Anthony Flowers of the Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center instructed staff not to call 9-1-1 as young Eric Perez lay dying.
Perez, 18, had been screaming and vomiting all night long, but jailers at the Palm Beach Juvenile Detention Center didn’t call 9-1-1 until well after dawn, reports Carol Marbin Miller at the Miami Herald.
A detention center healthcare log shows the youth was not examined by a medical professional until 7:51 a.m. Four minutes later, lockup staff called a “Code White,” meaning the young man’s condition was critical, the log shows.
After the 2003 scandal involving the death of young Omar Paisley, who also died before paramedics could help him, the state had posted signs throughout 22 youth detention centers authorizing guards to call 9-1-1 at the first hint of an emergency.
In a cruel twist of irony, administrators promised in 2003 and 2004 that they would “treat every child as if he were your own” after guards waited three days before calling an ambulance for the doomed Paisley.
In an interview with The Herald on Tuesday, Secretary Wansley Walters claimed poor decision-making was responsible for Perez’s death, rather than policies, procedures, training or money.
“The secretary told me there was no question at all that 911 should have been called,” said state Senator Ronda Storms, who serves on the powerful Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and chairs the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
“There was no evidence he was acting out,” said Storms, a Republican from Valrico. “He was a good kid. He’s doing everything he’s supposed top 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.”
Four guards and a nurse were in the room with Perez, who had turned 18 eight days before, in his final moments, with two other guards outside, according to the medical log. “One officer doing rescue breathing and me doing chest compressions,” the nurse wrote.
Paramedics arrived at 8 a.m., connecting the youth to their defibrillator and began doing chest compressions themselves, according to the log.
“Their machine got a flat line,” the nurse wrote in the log. “They said nothing they could do; they police would then take over from there.”
The last note in the log is just one word: “Deceased.”
Eric was stopped on June 29 while riding his bicycle because the bike did not have a night light. During the stop, officers found a small amount of marijuana on him.
Because he was already on probation for a robbery charge from years ago, the 5’8″, 120-pound Perez was sent to the detention center.
At admission, Eric told lockup staff he had smoked “one hit” of marijuana three hours before.
On July 10 at around 1:30 a.m., Eric complained of a severe headache and began hallucinating that an imaginary person was on top of him. He had been throwing up for hours as guards called a nurse who did not answer her phone.
Records show that lockup supervisors and the facility’s superintendent, Anthony Flowers, instructed staff not to call 9-1-1.
One guard who told the Herald he had tried to call 9-1-1, but was ordered not to by his supervisors, has been fired, along with two others. Three additional employees have been suspended, including Superintendent Flowers.
Eric’s mother, Maritza Perez, 47, who had initially asked to see the video of his final hours at the lockup cancelled her request hours before a scheduled Tuesday morning hearing on the fate of the video, reports the Herald. “Ms. Perez reserves the right to renew this request at a later date,” read a pleading filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court by Perez’s lawyers.
Perez’s withdrawal of her request likely means the public won’t know any time soon exactly what exactly happened the morning of July 10 at the lockup. In the spring, state lawmakers revised Florida’s public records law, forbidding the release of pictures or recordings that show a person dying.
The bill, which took effect last month, has an exception for the spouse, parents or relatives of the deceased, who may still be given copies.
Perez had said repeatedly she wanted “the world” to know how her son died, but if she doesn’t renew her request for the video, it is unlikely to see the light of day.
“Policy decisions carry with them very real consequences,” said Robert Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project. “When it comes to our current marijuana policy, those consequences tend to lean towards the tragic — lost lives, destroyed families, and government waste.
“Until we replace our failed marijuana policies with more sensible and less destructive alternatives, we will continue to see stories like Mr. Perez’s,” Capecchi said.