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Pinellas deputy fired for death of inmate

LARGO — A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office detention deputy has been fired for failing to summon medical help for a dying jail inmate last year and lying about it in agency records.

Deputy Jimmie Davis, an 11-year veteran, ignored complaints from Kyle Donald Howard and other inmates that 24-year-old Howard was violently ill and vomiting, according to an internal affairs report released this week.

In jail watch logs, Davis claimed he performed checks of inmates' pods every 30 minutes that day, but video surveillance showed otherwise. By the time several inmates tried to rouse Howard for dinner, he was dead and rigor mortis had set in.

"While you were assigned to the Health Care Division, Pod 3H3, you failed to perform your duties as a deputy sheriff," Sheriff Jim Coats wrote to Davis in a termination letter. "You admitted to this violation."

Autopsy findings listed Howard's cause of death as "complications of chronic drug abuse."

The case of 56-year-old Davis is the latest involving alleged inadequate supervision at the Pinellas jail.

The sheriff's office switched health care providers multiple times through the mid 1980s and 1990s due to a series of inmate deaths attributed to a lack of timely medical attention. For example, reports show the medical staff waited 13 hours to call 911 after 24-year-old Melony Bird collapsed in her cell from a possible heart attack in 1996.

A more recent case involves a 50-year-old mentally ill woman from St. Petersburg whose family filed suit last year claiming negligence by deputies and nurses led to her March 2009 death. According to the suit, a corrections officer and nurse lied about regularly checking on Jennifer DeGraw as required, and another nurse failed to supply the allegedly uncooperative woman with medications she needed. A nurse and deputy were disciplined in that case.

In the Davis case, reports state that Howard began complaining to the deputy about stomach pains the morning of July 26.

He had been arrested two days earlier on allegations that he violated probation on prior charges of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license. He was booked into a wing of the jail typically reserved for inmates who are detoxing or have other medical issues. He started vomiting repeatedly the first day and did not eat or drink much, if at all, over the next two days.

At least two other inmates approached Davis about Howard's illness on July 26, but the deputy reportedly just handed them forms for Howard to fill out to request a nurse.

After Howard was discovered unresponsive, the jail staff attempted CPR before rushing him to Northside Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner's notes show Howard had methylecgonine, which is a cocaine metabolite, and the tranquilizers nordiazepam, oxazepam and chlordiazepoxide in his system when he died.

Davis, who unsuccessfully appealed his Jan. 14 termination, admitted to investigators that he saw Howard vomiting and didn't check on him. Asked why he didn't contact the medical staff at the inmates' urging, Davis replied that he expected a nurse to make rounds soon and that his "training and experience" led him to believe Howard likely wouldn't explain his problem anyway.

"What kind of training have you had where you have learned that you don't ask inmates when they're having a problem or if they're in need of something?" investigators asked.

"It's not normal for me … to not ask them," Davis said.

"If it's not normal, why didn't you ask Kyle Howard?" investigators asked.

"I can't answer that. Why he was different, I don't know," Davis said.

Reached on his home phone Thursday, Davis declined to comment.

Records show this wasn't the first time Davis had been in trouble. In 2004 and 2006, he was disciplined for viewing "inappropriate material" on his work computer. Davis received written counseling in the first incident and a 40-hour suspension in the second, which specified that he accessed Internet porn.

In Davis' most recent performance evaluation in January 2010, supervisors determined he met agency standards in all categories except "judgment."

Times staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Pinellas deputy fired for death of inmate 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 9:05am]
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