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Family of Oldsmar man who died in jail suing Pinellas Sheriff's Office

George Hunt IV, 41, died in 2013 inside a cell at the Pinellas County Jail after his DUI arrest.
George Hunt IV, 41, died in 2013 inside a cell at the Pinellas County Jail after his DUI arrest.
Published May 23, 2015

It started as a typical DUI traffic stop. George Arthur Hunt IV had been driving off the road in East Lake Woodlands on May 18, 2013, when a deputy stopped him.

Seven hours later, the 41-year-old married father of four with no criminal history was dead inside a cell at the Pinellas County Jail.

His family is now suing the Sheriff's Office, claiming deputies and medical staff did not hospitalize Hunt despite his worsening medical condition.

"It's heartbreaking," said Joshua T. Chilson, one of the attorneys representing Hunt's family. "They're devastated to lose their husband, their father, their son."

Among the allegations is that medical staffers decided to book Hunt into the jail and have him hospitalized upon his release rather than immediately call an ambulance because "they didn't want to pick up the tab," Chilson said.

But Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called that claim "ridiculous," adding that his agency spends $17 million a year in inmate medical care. After Hunt's death, the agency hired a medical malpractice law firm, which the sheriff declined to name, to conduct an investigation.

"Is there anything there that is indicative of any wrongdoing, anything indicative of any liability?" Gualtieri said. "They said no. There is nothing done here improperly."

Although the sheriff would not release the law firm's review because it is part of the ongoing case, the 26-page lawsuit filed in Pinellas County offers a time line of the hours before Hunt's death.

About 6 p.m. that day in 2013, Hunt was stopped by the deputy, who noticed he had yellowing skin and questioned him about his medical history. Hunt told him he was not feeling well and had been seeing a doctor.

He was taken to the Pinellas County Jail on a DUI charge. Once there, he was seen by a nurse who indicated in her notes that Hunt had "generalized jaundice from head to toe," records state.

They placed him in a wheelchair and transferred him to the medical unit. Hunt was scheduled to be released on his own recognizance to Sunstar "as soon as it was legally possible to release him," the lawsuit states. Under law, he was required to remain at the jail for at least eight hours.

By the time Hunt was placed in a cell at 10:50 p.m., he was so lethargic that deputies had to lift him onto a bed. Although staff could monitor him through video, the footage did not contain audio, so they could not hear Hunt if he called for help, according to the suit.

Deputies had also called Dr. Luis Quinones, who was employed by Maxim Physician Resources, an agency that contracted with the Sheriff's Office at the time for inmate care. Maxim is also named in the lawsuit, but officials declined to comment. Quinones ordered medications and tests for Hunt. He told deputies to call him back in an hour. Instead, they didn't call until several hours later, after Hunt had died.

About 12:30 a.m., deputies noticed that Hunt had not moved in a while. They entered his cell and realized he wasn't breathing. The suit claims that two deputies and a sergeant did not perform CPR or check his pulse and "stood about the cell essentially doing nothing until members of the medical staff arrived." Gualtieri said it was obvious to the deputies that Hunt was already dead.

Chilson said Hunt died from heart and liver complications and had alcohol in his system.

According to his obituary, Hunt of Oldsmar graduated from Clearwater High in 1990, played volleyball, was an avid fisherman and attended Bayside Community Church in Safety Harbor. He was married to Kathleen Hunt and had two daughters, now ages 6 and 9, and two stepdaughters. He worked at his family's nursery.

State records show he did not have a criminal record in Florida other than the DUI arrest.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.