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Clearwater man dies after catching coronavirus in Pinellas jail

The Pinellas County jail had seen an outbreak among inmates over the last few weeks that hit about 100 cases at its peak, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. That number had decreased to 37 by Monday.
The entrance to the Pinellas County Jail complex in Clearwater. An inmate at the jail died in the hospital after he caught the coronavirus while at the jail.
The entrance to the Pinellas County Jail complex in Clearwater. An inmate at the jail died in the hospital after he caught the coronavirus while at the jail. [ Times ]
Published Sep. 13, 2021

A 70-year-old man died at a local hospital after contracting the coronavirus in the Pinellas County jail, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday.

Sir Walter Boykin III, of Clearwater, tested positive for the virus and was taken to Northside Hospital on Sept. 4, the sheriff said. His condition wavered for a few days, then took a turn for the worse. He died Friday.

“It’s unfortunate and sad that it happened,” Gualtieri said, “but it’s a tough environment that we’re in.”

County jails have long been a point of concern for coronavirus spread because of their high turnover and cramped quarters. The Pinellas County jail had its own outbreak in the last month that, at its peak, hit about 100 cases among inmates. Gualtieri said that number had dropped to 37 cases as of Monday.

While the majority of jail inmates are awaiting trial, Boykin had already been sentenced when he contracted the virus. Facing a minimum of about 22 months in state prison if convicted, Boykin took a plea deal that sentenced him to seven months in county jail. His projected release date was Oct. 11.

He asked a judge in August to shorten his sentence to six months or to release him with an ankle monitor, in part citing the prevalence of the Delta variant and its impact on people 70 and older. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley denied the request Sept. 1, citing case law that said a judge can’t reduce a sentence that a defendant agreed to under a plea deal.

Related: Coronavirus cases have ‘skyrocketed’ to 90 in past week at Pinellas jail

The jail started offering vaccinations to inmates in April. Boykin had not been vaccinated prior to incarceration, and he didn’t request one while in jail, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office will determine a cause and manner of death.

Boykin was booked into jail in May on warrants for failure to appear stemming from two felony petit theft charges. Petit theft, normally a misdemeanor, can be charged as a felony if a defendant has two or more prior convictions for the charge. Boykin had several prior theft convictions, court records show.

In the first incident, Boykin went into a Dollar General at 1600 Myrtle Ave. in Clearwater, hid two bars of Dove soap in his pants and walked out, according to his arrest report. He returned to the store about four hours later, and a manager recognized him. He was booked into jail that day and released Feb. 3 after meeting $1,000 bail.

Then, in February, an employee of a CVS at 1899 N Highland Ave. saw Boykin hide two packs of toothpaste in his waistband then leave the store, according to Clearwater police. Officers found Boykin near the store and, during a search, found regular and electric toothbrushes police said he’d also taken from CVS. The total value of the items was about $66.

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Police didn’t arrest him that day because of an ongoing effort, spurred by the pandemic, to reduce the number of people going into the jail. Instead, officers trespassed him from the CVS and referred the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, which filed a theft charge against him in April.

Boykin didn’t show up for pre-trial hearings in both cases, according to court records, and warrants were issued for his arrest. He was booked into jail on May 26.

Reached by phone Monday, a woman who said she was Boykin’s daughter declined to comment.

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