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Duval inmate, set to be released after trespassing arrest, dies after altercation with guards. His family wants answers.

Taylor family
Taylor family
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Daniel Taylor in a family photo with sisters NaTasha, top left, and Noel, bottom right, along with mother Colleen and dog Mojo.

An inmate at the Duval County jail, set to be released after a plea deal for a misdemeanor trespassing charge, died one week after being subdued by several officers and given a powerful sedative.

Daniel Taylor, 30, was left bloodied by the Aug. 13 altercation and then rushed to the hospital by emergency services. He arrived unconscious at UF Health Jacksonville, an investigation by WJCT News and The Florida Times-Union discovered.

His family took him off life support after doctors advised he had little brain activity and would not recover. Taylor’s death certificate, provided to WJCT by his family, listed the manner of death as homicide.

What killed him, the death certificate says, was a lack of oxygen to the brain due to an abnormal heart rate following a “violent physical altercation.”

Eight months later, the family is still waiting for answers about how Taylor died.

The 30-year-old son and brother didn’t have a lot, his family says, but what he had he shared with others. He made handmade cards for his sister Noel. He loved animals, music and spending time with friends.

Taylor was arrested a little after 3 a.m. Aug. 13 for trespassing at the Omni Hotel Downtown, an offense that normally would warrant a citation rather than jail. The responding officer wrote in the booking report that Taylor was ineligible for a citation due to a previous arrest.

An eyewitness told WJCT on Aug. 17 that at least 10 officers were involved in restraining and beating Taylor on the day he was taken to jail. According to a prehospital report, EMS workers also said 10 officers held Taylor down.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office charged Taylor with three felonies after the jailhouse fight, including battery on an officer and resisting arrest, saying that he injured an officer by biting his hand.

Taylor’s booking report for the charges and a report from detectives investigating the fight fail to mention any of his injuries, nor do they identify the officers involved.

An incident report from JSO detectives reduces the confrontation to just two lines: “Officers became involved in physical altercation with an inmate. The inmate became unresponsive.”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has refused to answer questions about the death, citing an ongoing investigation by JSO and the office of State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

The Sheriff’s Office has yet to release surveillance footage of the altercation, which is privileged from public disclosure due to the investigation.

Records documenting use of force by officers, required by department policy when a suspect is injured, skipped from the day before Taylor’s confrontation to the day after when requested by the Times-Union. A public records officer for JSO told the Times-Union there are no use-of-force reports for the incident with Taylor.

The Duval County medical examiner told WJCT News that reports for autopsies generally are completed within 90 days of examination. Taylor’s autopsy was performed Aug. 23, three days after his death, while his report was completed in mid-December. Authorities have since commissioned a second examination from an outside office.

Jail.jpg
Exterior of the Duval County Jail on the edge of Downtown Jacksonville.

The altercation in the jail

Another inmate who was in JSO custody at the same time as Taylor said he witnessed most of the altercation. The witness asked to not be identified in fear of retaliation if he went back into the Duval County justice system.

Taylor and the witness did not know each other, he said, nor did he ever learn Taylor’s name. Upon his release, he reached out to WJCT to talk about what he had seen.

On Aug. 17, the witness gave his full account of the fight to WJCT News. He expressed concern about Taylor’s condition and whether he had survived the altercation. Taylor would die three days later.

On Aug. 23, detectives investigating Taylor’s death and other JSO representatives met with his immediate family — his two sisters and mother — to give their own account of what happened.

“He was asking the guard for some — honestly asking them for help,” the witness said.

He described Taylor as confused about why he had not been released yet despite “making bond.” The inmates were gathered in a common area, located in the west wing of the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility, when the witness said Taylor asked a guard when he could leave.

According to the family, JSO told them that Taylor was going to be released and that corrections officers were simply awaiting paperwork.

The family says they were told an officer “exchanged words” with Taylor before asking him to go to his cell. When he refused, “numerous officers” placed him in a four-point-restraint, a mobile bed with straps to hold down a person’s arms and legs, the family was informed.

The witness's account

In the witness’s depiction of events, Taylor initially refused to go to his cell but then relented when approached by a second officer. The witness said Taylor asked why he was being singled out when all the other inmates were in the common area and he was set to be released anyway.

Taylor walked upstairs to the second level, in full view of the inmates in the common area below, when he refused to enter his cell a second time.

From there, the witness says things spiraled.

He said two officers tried to tackle Taylor, who held onto the stairwell and refused to let go.

“They’re wrestling and officer B comes running up and starts uppercutting this guy and punching him in the chest, and the guy is holding onto the pole upstairs screaming for help,” the witness said. “I mean he screamed help the whole time.”

The witness didn’t know the officer’s name.

He said dozens of officers flooded the unit, with most holding back prisoners in the common area and moving them into their cells while 10 guards continued to try to pry Taylor off the railing.

Eventually the officers dragged Taylor downstairs. The witness said he saw Taylor bleeding profusely from his face and he saw a trail of blood left behind as Taylor was pulled away and restrained.

"The guy is holding onto the pole upstairs screaming for help. I mean he screamed help the whole time.”
Witness in the jail

Medical records from UF Health, provided to WJCT and the Times-Union by Taylor’s family, described Taylor as having injuries to his head and scalp, including an inch-long cut from his forehead to his eyebrow, and a dislocated pinky finger.

Doctors wrote that, according to “history obtained from EMS,” Taylor had gone “crazy” in the jail and “required 10 guards to hold him down.”

NaTasha Taylor, Taylor’s sister, said JSO officials told the family that, even while in restraints and held down by multiple officers, Taylor was too combative to be observed by the jail’s in-house nurse, so officers called the Fire Department to send a team of paramedics.

While Taylor was being held down and restrained, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department paramedics injected him with ketamine, the family said JSO told them. Ketamine is a powerful dissociative sedative that’s been scrutinized for its use as an incapacitation tool by law enforcement.

The drug, which can affect breathing and heart rates, has been at the center of high profile arrests where suspects were grievously injured or killed after being sedated in custody.

Taylor had a cardiac episode either while being taken to the ambulance or in the ambulance, the family said JSO told them.

The Fire Department didn’t provide records to WJCT and the Times-Union related to Taylor’s transport to the hospital or the care he received. Taylor’s family has requested the report.

UF Health Jacksonville hospital
UF Health
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Daniel Taylor died at UF Health Jacksonville.

No use-of-force report

The Sheriff’s Office’s written policy states that when a suspect or inmate in custody is injured or allegedly injured by officers, a response-to-resistance, or RTR, report is filed regardless of the severity. Typically, the reports include any use of force by officers, as well as the name of the officers involved.

An October Times-Union request to JSO for RTR reports from the jail did not return a record of Taylor’s altercation with officers. A request for all RTR reports for the week of the incident came back with four reports from Aug. 12, including a report where an officer reported striking an inmate, who was then tased by another officer while he was handcuffed.

The records provided by JSO then skipped from Aug. 12 to Aug. 14, when four more reports were filed. One officer reported throwing an inmate to the ground, causing cuts to his lip and nose that required the inmate to be taken to the hospital.

The Times-Union asked JSO why there were no RTR reports for Aug. 13, the day the hospital says Taylor was “beaten” and Daniel’s arrest report says he “fought” with at least one officer. JSO told the Times-Union there was no use-of-force report for what happened that day.

Three officers involved in the fight were listed as victims in Taylor’s arrest report for the altercation. Their names were redacted due to Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment that bars identifying characteristics of victims from being publicly available.

Since its 2018 passage, Marsy’s Law has been used by Florida law enforcement agencies to shield the names of officers who’ve shot or killed people in the line of duty by listing them as victims of the suspect who was harmed or killed.

Who was Daniel Taylor?

Taylor arrived at the hospital resuscitated and breathing, but with almost no brain activity.

Despite being in a coma, he was guarded by a corrections officer. Family members visiting him in the hospital were required to notify JSO before appearing and were allowed a single hour with Taylor each day.

On the advice of doctors, his family took him off life support on Aug. 20 and donated his organs.

Taylor grew up in Jacksonville after the age of 6, when he lived with his father and one of his older sisters. He was considered the baby of the family, and his sisters, NaTasha and Noel, and his mother, Colleen, describe him as “soft” at heart and a “smooth talker.”

"He was somebody who always was able to bring light to a room and able to have a good time."
Daniel Taylor's sister Noel

Since Taylor’s death, his mom says a special prayer for him every night. None of the three women believe they’ve fully grieved or accepted that he’s gone.

“We grew up together. We learned a lot of things together,” Noel told the Times-Union. “I remember … when my uncle gave me his old car, like the first time I drove it outside of my neighborhood without my dad, it was me and my brother. … He was somebody who always was able to bring light to a room and able to have a good time.”

For NaTasha, the oldest of the siblings, one of the hardest parts of Taylor’s death has been the similarities between her brother’s and father’s passing. Her father had a heart attack and slipped into a coma before dying several years ago. Arriving at the hospital to see that Taylor was already unresponsive in a coma was like reliving the experience.

Seeing the two men in your life go through that and seeing them, knowing that they're probably not in pain but just not knowing, not being able to really understand why they are where they are,” NaTasha said. “Losing both of our men in our lives, our father and our brother, is absolutely devastating.”

Now, they want answers.

Delays and lingering questions

On Aug. 23, the same day JSO detectives met with Taylor’s family, an autopsy was performed on his body.

The detectives informed the family that the State Attorney’s Office would also be looking into the case.

The Duval County medical examiner, when asked by WJCT News, said that autopsy reports are typically completed within about 90 days after examination. The report on Taylor was finished Dec. 17, nearly four months later.

Due to the ongoing investigation, the autopsy report is sealed. Records requests from both WJCT News and Taylor’s family were denied. However, Taylor’s death certificate was updated after its completion. His cause of death was listed as “homicide” via “anoxic encephalopathy due to cardiac dysrhythmia following violent physical altercation.”

Anoxic encephalopathy is brain damage caused by lack of oxygen rather than physical trauma, while cardiac dysrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat.

Hospital records indicate there were no direct physical injuries to Taylor’s brain or internal organs despite the wounds on his face and head. While he had a fractured nose from a previous injury, the hospital didn’t detect any fractures to his skull or rib cage. He also tested positive for an immunodeficiency disease.

In January, a month after the autopsy report was completed, JSO told the Taylor family that detectives were still consulting with medical experts and Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel on next steps and there would be at least two more months before the investigation would be over.

In a March email exchange with WJCT, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office said they had sought a second opinion from Dr. Stephen Nelson, the medical examiner for Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. The State Attorney's Office said a second opinion was necessary "given the complex nature of the medical evidence."

It’s unknown when the investigation will be completed as investigators and the prosecutor await the outside medical examiner’s report.

Heather Schatz of WJCT News contributed to this report.

Updated: April 29, 2022 at 1:17 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from the State Attorney's Office explaining why a second autopsy was requested.
Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.