The family of a Florida man who died after being violently restrained by jailers is filing a civil rights suit against the officers who were involved in the incident and the jail’s healthcare provider.
According to a draft of the lawsuit shared exclusively with the Guardian, the family of 43-year-old Kevin Desir alleges that Broward county sheriff officials used excessive force against Desir while he was suffering from a severe mental health episode, violating his 14th amendment rights.
“As a result of the customs, practices, policies, or procedures that directed, encouraged, or permitted the individual defendants to use excessive force, the individual defendants used excessive force on Kevin during his mental health crisis, causing conscious pain and suffering and later death,” the suit says.
The suit also alleges that jail staff in the North Broward Bureau detention facility showed deliberate indifference to Desir’s medical and mental health care needs, both before he was restrained by jail staff and after he was injured after being restrained.
The lawsuit, which includes a wrongful death claim, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The jail, which falls under the Broward sheriff’s office (BSO) system in Florida, specifically detains those with physical and mental disabilities as well as those with mental health problems.
“Defendants had actual knowledge of Kevin’s mental health and medical needs, yet they responded to his mental health crisis by forcibly removing him from his cell, dragging him across the floor, and pinning him to the ground while using excessive force – tasing him, punching him, and putting all of their weight on him. All while medical personnel … stood by,” the suit said, adding that Desir did not receive proper accommodations as a person with disabilities given his mental health diagnoses.
The suit will be filed against Broward county; the Broward county sheriff, Gregory Tony; and several deputies employed in the North Broward Bureau detention facility. The lawsuit also includes Wellpath, a for-profit healthcare provider in several jails and prisons nationwide.
On 17 January 2021, Desir became unresponsive after a struggle with six deputies at the North Broward Bureau detention facility.
During the incident, Desir was handcuffed, punched repeatedly, tasered and pepper-sprayed by multiple officers. He lost consciousness after deputies attempted to strap him into a restraint chair.
One deputy interlocked hands on Desir’s neck from behind and used “his body weight to leverage Desir back into the chair”, according to a memo from the Broward county state attorney’s office.
Desir died in the hospital on 27 January. An official autopsy conducted by the Broward county medical examiner’s office the next day found that the cause and manner of Desir’s death could not be determined.
But a private autopsy conducted at about the same time reached a different conclusion, the Guardian revealed.
The autopsy showed that Desir died after being restrained by jailers and classified his death a homicide by strangulation.
The lawsuit also alleges that jails under the BSO have failed to adequately provide medical and mental health care to other incarcerated individuals with mental health issues.
BSO jails have been under a consent decree that mandated federal monitoring and improved jail conditions since 1995, with the agreement updated in 2018.
But since the original decree and its update, several incidents involving people with mental illnesses have occurred within BSO jails.
In September 2018, an individual having a mental health crisis self-mutilated while in BSO custody and at least two individuals have died in BSO custody following Desir’s death.
Multiple people with mental health conditions have also given birth in BSO facilities alone.
As of 2018, Wellpath was also involved in 24 federal lawsuits related to the deaths of incarcerated people and 145 federal suits related to inadequate care, the suit notes.
“One important thing about the context of this case is that even though Kevin’s situation is particularly sad and egregious, he is far from the first person to die in the Broward county jail, on the Broward county sheriff’s watch or on Wellpath’s watch,” said Lauren Bonds, an attorney with the National Police Accountability Project who is representing the Desir family.
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