Florida opens investigation into Duval County jail’s medical provider
The Florida Department of Management Services has opened an investigation into Armor Correctional Services after The Tributary notified the state that the company was convicted in the death of a Milwaukee inmate in October 2022.
The investigation comes a week after The Tributary asked the department why Armor was not on its convicted vendor list. Florida law prohibits public agencies from signing contracts with companies that have been convictedof a public entity crime.
The city of Jacksonville renewed its contract with the company in November 2022. The original contract was signed in October 2017.
A spokesperson confirmed the city was unaware of Armor’s conviction in November. Asked whether news of the conviction will affect the current contract, the spokesperson said, “We encourage all of our contract managers to review their vendor’s performance as to the terms of their contract.”
The city did not identify who was responsible for reviewing Armor’s multimillion-dollar contract with the city. Armor gets paid a minimum of $18 million a year under its contract, with more money coming in depending on how many inmates the jail houses.
In a statement, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said the agency “has administratively reviewed specific instances involving the care provided by Armor, and we have also asked that Armor conduct their own in-house review in light of recent events.”
The Tributary first reported last week on the jail’s failure to provide transplant medicine to a man arrested on a misdemeanor charge. Dexter Barry had begged an officer seven times for his anti-rejection medicine, but he died after two days in jail. Records showed the jail knew what medicine he needed but never provided it.
“The contract between the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Armor Health, a third-party medical care provider vendor, was entered into under a previous administration,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Officer Christian Hancock said in an email. “After Sheriff Waters took office on November 20, 2022, he became fully involved in every aspect of the agency, including the day-to-day operations involving Armor and its medical care of inmates. As a result, Sheriff Waters and the members of his Staff responsible for the safety and welfare of the inmate population began working with Armor personnel to improve processes and resolve challenges that were brought to their attention.”
"Sheriff Waters is committed to continuing to ensure every inmate receives all necessary medical and mental health care while in the custody of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.”
The Tributary has requested an interview with Waters to no avail.
Local civil rights attorney Andrew Bonderud, who represents the family of a heart transplant recipient who died after failing to get medication in the Duval County jail last year, has called on city leaders to “act now.”
“This has the risk of becoming a contagion, a financial liability, if the city does not step in to make desperately needed changes to the way the jail is operated,” he said. “The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the operations of the jail, but the city is responsible for paying any liability that arises from incidents in the jail.”
Armor was convicted in the 2016 death of Milwaukee County Jail death of Terrill Thomas.
Thomas, 38, was found dead from dehydration on April 24, 2016, after he spent a week in his cell without water, according to local news reports. His death was ruled a homicide.
The company was found guilty on Oct. 11, 2022, of neglecting residents of a penal facility and falsifying health care records.
“It is extremely rare to prosecute a corporation. However, such a prosecution is justified in particularly egregious circumstances,” Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said in a news release after the conviction was announced. “Armor Correctional betrayed the trust of the people of Milwaukee County by not only neglecting Mr. Thomas and others, but also by attempting to hide the neglect by falsifying the medical records.”
Armor Correctional has been sued in federal court at least 370 times between the creation of the agency in 2005 to 2018. Those lawsuits range from accusations such as medical malpractice to wrongful death and employment issues. Seventy-seven lawsuits were filed the year Jacksonville signed its first contract.
In the seven years prior to Armor’s contract, 38 people died in Duval County jail custody, according to public records. In the six years since the company took over, at least 65 deaths have been reported — a 71% increase over less time. Those deaths include people who were not given medications and who died by suicide or physical trauma, according to autopsy reports reviewed by The Tributary.
The company will likely be sued by the surviving family of Barry, the heart transplant recipient who died in Nov. 2022 after he didn’t get his anti-rejection medications while in the Duval County jail for two days.
Jail staff who processed Dexter Barry’s intake noted his medications were “urgent,” and they verified the medications with the Walmart pharmacy Barry used, but the staff never administered the drugs.
Barry was arrested Nov. 18. He spent two days in jail and was released after he paid a $503 bond. He died three days later.
A private pathologist hired by Barry’s family confirmed he died because his body rejected the heart. The pathologist said he didn’t feel medically qualified to connect Barry’s body rejecting his heart with the two days he spent in jail without taking his medications.
However, Dr. Maya Guglin, an Indiana cardiologist on the board at the American College of Cardiology, said organ transplant recipients have to take anti-rejection medications because their bodies view the new organ as an invasion that must be fought off.
“If you just drop those medications, everyone is eventually going to reject that organ,” she told the Tributary earlier.
Outside of Thursday’s statement about the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s contract with Armor, the office has refused to answer questions about Barry, citing an administrative review of his death, which was opened after The Tributary sent the department questions about Barry’s death.