In-custody deaths spawn questions, lawsuit
CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. – WINK News teamed up with the Charlotte Sun Newspaper to investigate deaths at the Charlotte County Jail.
Tom Ireland seemed reluctant to talk to two reporters prying into an unexpected and undoubtedly embarrassing family tragedy.
He seemed to have a similar reluctance towards the lawsuit he’s filed against members of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and it’s Medical Provider: Corizon Healthcare.
“I’m not here to make waves. All I said was something was wrong,” he said.
The retiree from Wisconsin said he was proud of his middle son Greg, who at one point in time was a very capable engineer in their home state.
In 2008, Gregg lost his job and came to Punta Gorda to live with his parents.
Ireland said he did odd jobs, helped around the house and neighborhood and always found time to watch Wisconsin football.
On August 22, 2015, 47-year-old Gregg Ireland was arrested for driving while intoxicated with a blood alcohol content at 0.314.
With a BAC more than three times the legal limit, too high to be booked directly into jail, a Charlotte County Sheriff’s deputy took him to Bayfront Health.
Medical records show a diagnosis of alcohol abuse and hypokalemia, a potassium deficiency common in alcoholics. He left the hospital with a prescription for a potassium supplement and was transported to the Charlotte County Jail’s medical facility, known as “C-Pod”.
According to medical records and interviews from an internal investigation, none of the medical staff gave Ireland the potassium supplement, or any detox medications during the time he was in the jail.
A deputy said he and Ireland exchanged friendly banter about football when he first arrived. But the next night, that same deputy said he so threatened by the 322-pound inmate he had to defend himself.
Sometime after 3 a.m. on August 24, the deputy and a nurse went to Ireland’s cell door to investigate a commotion.
Over the course of the next hour, Ireland was tased a total of nine times and restrained by several deputies.
When they realized he was not responding or breathing, they started CPR and eventually transported him to the hospital.
“He just never woke up,” said Tom Ireland, who made the decision to take his son off life support two days later.
The medical examiner listed the cause of death as natural due to withdrawal from alcohol.
Five deaths in five years
A WINK News and Charlotte Sun joint investigation found Ireland’s death was the 5th at the jail in a five-year period.
In 2013, Thomas Andreasen, was arrested for panhandling.
After what is best described as a psychotic episode, deputies placed Andreasen in a restraint chair for several hours.
Deputies claimed they did checks on him every 15 minutes, and on the last one noticed he wasn’t breathing. The medical examiner said his death was natural due to withdrawl from alcohol.
It was the second time in five years that an inmate housed in the medical unit died, and the medical examiner listed alcohol withdrawal as the cause of death.
Two other inmates committed suicide after being cleared by the jail’s mental health counselor and released back into general population. And another inmate was found in an intake cell some time after booking, not breathing.
What’s going on?
Tom Ireland said he hopes the federal lawsuit will shed some light on what potential mistakes were made leading up to his son’s death.
Surveillance video and interviews with inmates, deputies and medical staff show the events leading up to Gregg Ireland’s death.
It started when inmate Ireland’s roommate banged on the door of the cell.
“He said Ireland threw water on him. Ireland had claims thed he had tripped and spilled the water,” said Zachary Heavener, a nurse who escorted a deputy upstairs to investigate.
In the medical unit of the jail, nursing staff assists deputies to make sure nothing medical is going on.
The deputy described Ireland as sweating, nervous and fidgety and said while trying to remove the roomate’s belongings from the cell, Ireland took a step towards him.
Deputy Brandon Swartzentruber said at that time he tased him, and called over the radio for help.
A female inmate later told investigators she heard Ireland trying to tell the deputy he couldn’t get on his back before the taser went off.
Another deputy said he had to give palm strikes to Ireland’s ribcage in an effort to get him to comply and said the “fight” was on when they arrived in the cell.
A male inmate reported hearing sounds of a body being slammed against the concrete several times.
Eight deputies arrived throughout the next several minutes to help restrain Ireland with handcuffs and leg shackles. They said none of that was working, so another deputy left to get special Velcro restraint belts.
Based on the video it is twelve minutes into the ordeal when deputies call for a second nurse to come upstairs to the cell.
Deputies said Ireland had gone unresponsive but when the Nurse shined a flashlight in his eyes, he began cussing at her.
They claim as they moved him from the top floor of the pod to the bottom, he continued to “squirm” and break out of restraint belts.
The inmate in the cell next to him, told investigators she saw them drop him on the floor right next to her cell and she didn’t hear or see him moving or making any sounds.
On the bottom floor, a video inside a cell where camera is not functioning, showed deputies with Ireland for another eight minutes.
When he is moved into a cell with a functioning camera, deputies are seen removing a spit mask from his face and beginning chest compressions.
Records indicate that Ireland was given a prescription for potassium to treat the Hypokalemia when he left Bayfront Health, but it was never administered.
No alcohol detox drugs were administered either despite his extremely high blood alcohol content.
“The physical detox from those chemicals can cause death if not monitored correctly,” said Robert Raab, an addiction therapist at Next Step in Fort Myers.
Raab said people going through withdrawals may be trying to comply with orders but may not be able to verbalize it.
He said the description of Ireland’s demeanor changing from friendly and cooperative to aggressive is consistent with people coming down from alcohol.
Drug protocols for the jail require inmates who self report as drinking every day to be put on medication protocol which includes Valium.
Ireland’s medical records indicate that he reported drinking multiple times a week.
According to the protocols, medication is not required until there are sufficient signs of withdrawal such as sweating and tremors.
Interviews indicate this behavior may have been exhibited from the time the deputy and the nurse went to investigate the commotion with Ireland’s roommate.
It wasn’t until after Ireland was reportedly unresponsive the first time, more than 10 minutes into the deputies using force, that nurses attempted to get a prescription filled for Valium.
The investigation into Ireland’s death found that the doctor on call slept through four phone calls and nurses had to get in touch with a supervisor and then a different doctor to authorize the medicine.
It was finally authorized, but never given to Ireland
No crimes, no policy violations
No criminal wrongdoing or policy violations were found in any of the deaths during the past five years.
After Andreasen’s death in 2013, the Sheriff’s office updated the way it logs well-being checks so they are better recorded.
So far no one named in Tom Ireland’s federal lawsuit has responded to the complaint and no attorneys are listed for the defendants.
WINK News attempted to reach out to each person named in the suit, but no one provided comment.
Corizon Health, through a spokesperson, issued the following statement:
“We appreciate you providing the opportunity to make, as you requested, a Corizon Health employee working at the Charlotte County Jail available to be interviewed regarding the health services we provide. Corizon Health doctors and nurses have the same training and follow the same clinical practices as doctors and nurses who care for the general public. In addition, our clinicians follow the rigorous standards established by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which was created by the American Medical Association and sets the standards recognized by the medical profession and the courts as the benchmark for establishing and measuring a correctional health services program. In fact, the Charlotte County Jail is accredited by the NCCHC and received a 100 percent score on its last reaccreditation inspection. However, due to a number of considerations – patient privacy and employee safety foremost among them – we will not subject one of our nurses to a media interview.”