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Florida inmate dies a week after altercation with jail staff

By AP | Jan 29, 2021

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A mentally ill South Florida man has died a week after an altercation with jail officers as he awaited trail on criminal mischief and marijuana possession charges, officials said.

The family of Kevin Lavira Desir, 43, removed him from life-support and he died Wednesday night, Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes told the Miami Herald.

Desir, who was Black, was arrested by Coral Springs police Jan. 6 after he smashed the taillights and scratched the side of his neighbor’s car with a brick, the newspaper reported. He was released on bail, but nearby Tamarac police arrested him a week later for marijuana possession.

Weekes said Desir “suffered a mental health crisis” while in custody on Jan. 17, and deputies used a significant level of physical force as well as pepper spray and a stun gun as they restrained him.

“Within moments of the deputies’ actions,” Weekes wrote, Desir “lost consciousness and became non-responsive.”

In a letter to Jan. 25 letter to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, Weekes said Desir suffered “a severe and irreversible brain injury and remains in a chronic vegetative state” as a result.

The sheriff responded to Weekes via a letter, which was provided to the Herald on Thursday night. The sheriff accused the public defender of making “unsubstantiated allegations.”

Weekes has asked the sheriff to release surveillance camera video so that the community concerns surrounding the treatment and care of mentally ill inmates within your custody are alleviated.”

The sheriff wrote that jail recordings are confidential, exempt under Florida law and can’t be released without jeopardizing the safety of jail security and medical staff, the Herald reported.

The sheriff’s communications director Veda Coleman-Wright told the Herald in an email that detention deputies encountered Desir after he had cut himself using an unknown object while in the infirmary.

“When deputies removed the inmate from the cell to assess his injuries and render aid, he became extremely violent and bit two deputies, causing injury to one of them,” Coleman-Wright wrote.

Deputies placed Desir in a restraint chair, and he allegedly kicked staff and resisted efforts to restrain him, she said.

“The inmate continued to move about violently until becoming unresponsive and was removed from the restraint chair,” Coleman-Wright said. “Deputies immediately began CPR and jail medical staff took over resuscitation efforts.”

The medical examiner will determine the cause of Desir’s death, which is also under investigation by the agency’s internal affairs unit. The case file will be forwarded to the Broward State Attorney’s Office once completed.

“In every instance where concerns are expressed about the care provided, investigations are conducted,” Tony said. “When deficiencies are identified, changes are made to ensure that the highest levels of care are provided.”

The sheriff’s office did not identify the detention deputies involved in the incident.

Weekes said Desir’s unexplained injuries follow a series of similar cases involving detainees at the jail.

“These stories unfortunately continue a tragic pattern of mentally ill inmates needlessly suffering and dying while being held in the jail,” Weekes wrote in his letter.