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Two suspended in prison probe as inmate languishes in hospital

GAINESVILLE — An inmate was still unable to speak Thursday after collapsing during a prison-ordered exercise regimen in sweltering heat at a youth facility in north Florida.

As state investigators looked into whether the prison handled the incident properly, two prison guards were suspended with pay.

The inmate, 20-year-old Samuel Joel Dread, was diagnosed as schizophrenic two years ago, said his mother, Ida Mae Pates, 57, of Gainesville.

At the time of Monday's incident, he was taking Prozac and a second drug to reduce Prozac's side effects, she said. A doctor told her the second drug made Dread more susceptible to sunstroke, she said.

Prison officials have said the temperature was 86 degrees at the time Dread participated in the exercise program on Monday.

Pates has been at her son's side nearly constantly since she heard of the incident on Wednesday.

He was in Shands Hospital, hooked up to a breathing machine and a feeding tube. He still had sand in his hair from when he fell at the prison, she said.

Gov. Charlie Crist's office asked for an investigation into the matter after Dread collapsed.

Dread had been transferred Monday to the Lancaster Correctional Institution in Trenton from a nearby prison that day.

On Wednesday, a lawyer for the governor asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to "evaluate the possibility of any illegal or improper actions" in the case.

On Thursday, Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil suspended two correctional officers, Michael Devanie and James Barry, "after learning of conflicting witness statements."

Gloria Fletcher, a Gainesville lawyer who represents Devanie, said the temporary suspensions are standard procedure in a law enforcement investigation. Her client and Barry were in charge of the prison's orientation program for new inmates.

"It makes more sense for them not to be there while the investigation is going on," she said.

Dread was arrested in 2008 after he fashioned two sticks together and robbed a Walgreens in Gainesville for $300. He was released on probation after a short prison stay, according to his sister. After violating his probation, he was sent back to prison in January on a 10-year sentence.

"He was overlooked and railroaded from the beginning," Pates said, noting her son has a history of panic attacks, migraines and breathing difficulty.

She said the probation violation was partly due to a malfunction in her son's electronic tracking device.

She said she talked to his public defender about getting him transferred to a mental health center, but was brushed off.

"The public defender didn't care what was going on with him," she said. "He just wanted his butt behind bars."

Dread's sister, 22-year-old Sarah Dread, described him as a fun-loving jokester who is also religious.

At 5 feet 6 and 140 pounds, Dread tried to play football at Eastside High School, but felt he was too small.

Pates and her daughter both said they don't think race played a role in how Dread was treated.

Pates said she is very pleased by his care at the hospital and that McNeil visited her Wednesday morning to offer condolences.

"I don't know if anything took place that was criminal," she said. "I'm looking forward to having him be able to talk again. Then I'll find out what really happened."

Pates said the biggest concern about her son is his white blood cell count.

"He's up there fighting for his life," she said. "If the Lord wills, he'll get through it."

Minch Minchin contributed reporting from Gainesville. Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet also contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Two suspended in prison probe as inmate languishes in hospital 05/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 28, 2010 11:44am]
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