Two Pinellas jail deputies have been given 40-hour suspensions after they didn’t notice an alert from an inmate that he sent just seconds before suffering a fatal medical emergency.
Deputy Eniko Bono, 49, and Deputy Daniela Martin Sanchez, 23, were having an “animated conversation” with a jail nurse and missed an alert sent by Tony Smith, 58, who was incarcerated on charges of trespassing and possession of oxycodone.
Smith had been placed in respiratory isolation because of medical symptoms he was experiencing. In the early hours of Nov. 13, he pressed the intercom button in his cell after he began having a medical emergency, according to internal affairs documents from the sheriff’s office. The call button sent a flashing visual alert to a computer in the office where Bono and Martin Sanchez were working.
Seconds later, Smith collapsed, the internal affairs documents state. He raised his arms briefly, then stopped moving and remained “in an unnatural position on the floor,” the documents state.
Bono and Martin Sanchez did not notice the alert or see Smith collapse on surveillance cameras while they were talking with the nurse, according to the internal affairs investigation. They did not find out that Smith had suffered a medical emergency until they did a well-being check five minutes later, the documents state. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office determined that he died of a pulmonary embolism.
Footage from Smith’s jail cell obtained by the Tampa Bay Times shows Smith pressing the intercom button, sitting on his bunk, collapsing shortly after and falling to the floor. He can be seen moving his arms occasionally and shifting his legs, but he stops moving about a minute later. About five minutes later, Martin Sanchez can be seen shining a flashlight into Smith’s cell before alerting the jail nurse.
The Times was unable to reach Bono and Martin Sanchez at phone numbers listed under their names in public records. Smith’s daughter also did not return a call seeking comment.
During the internal affairs investigation, Bono said she could not recall if she saw Smith lying on the floor on surveillance cameras and said it was “staff discretion” to answer the intercom, according to sheriff’s office documents. During the internal affairs interview, Martin Sanchez said she didn’t see the alert from the intercom flashing on the computer and that “the intercom is not a priority for us to check.” Both deputies said they wouldn’t have changed anything they did, the documents state.
Bono was hired in November 2012 and Martin Sanchez was hired in August 2020. Martin Sanchez’s suspension began Monday and runs through Saturday. Bono’s suspension begins Sunday and runs through June 19.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that Smith likely would have died even if the deputies responded right away but that the deputies still failed in their duties.
“The outcome probably wouldn’t have been any different because of the nature of what it was medically, but that’s not the point,” he said. “The point is that when an inmate pushes the intercom button ... you need to respond to it.”
The deputies’ failure to respond was a result of them not doing their jobs properly rather than an issue of training, policies or protocols, Gualtieri said.
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“They had an obligation to respond when the inmate pushed the intercom,” Gualtieri said. “They had a responsibility to do the checks and not sit there and have casual conversation with a nurse.”