Youth died amid chaos, confusion
Miami Herald, February 27, 2004

Omar Paisley
Dies in custody at age 17

Case timeline

March 24, 2003: Paisley is arrested for aggravated battery after getting into a fight with a neighbor. Police say he cut the neighbor with a soda can.

March 26, 2003: Prosecutors announce they are reviewing Paisley's case to determine whether to try him as an adult. In response to the announcement, Paisley writes a letter to prosecutors: ``I am sorry for what I have done. I made a stupid mistake.''

April 23, 2003: Paisley is given a comprehensive physical exam by a registered nurse practitioner at the Miami-Dade detention center. He did not report any problems.

June 6, 2003: Paisley enters into a written guilty plea to the battery charges, and agrees to enter a ''moderate risk'' residential program at Bay Point Schools.

June 7, 2003, morning: Paisley tells corrections officers he is sick, and fills out a formal request to see a doctor. ''My stomach hurts really bad,'' he writes. ``I don't know what to do.''

June 7, 2003, 12:10 p.m.: The detention center log book records that Paisley again tells an officer he is sick, and he refuses to eat lunch.

June 7, 2003, sometime between 12:10 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.: Licensed practical nurse Gaile Loperfido visits Paisley in his module. She ''determined'' that he had a stomach virus, the log book states, and recommends bed rest and a liquid diet.

June 8, 2003, 9 a.m.: Loperfido visits Paisley again. She orders that he remain on a liquid diet with bed rest. The log book entry on the visit says Paisley was ``complaining of serious abdominal pain.''

June 9, 2003, 5:30 a.m.: Paisley wakes up ''urgently'' requesting medical care, the grand jury reports. Officers tell DJJ nurses of his condition at breakfast.

June 9, 2003, 5:30 p.m.: Officer Terry Mixon, at dinnertime, informs nurse Dianne Demeritte that Paisley is very sick, and asks her to visit. During the next three hours, Mixon radios his supervisors frantically seeking help.

June 9, 2003, after 8:00 p.m.: Demeritte sees Paisley. She forces the near-dead youth to exit his cell, and does not examine him. At 8:30, she finishes paperwork to transfer Paisley to the hospital, then leaves the lockup for a 45-minute break.

June 9, 2003, about 9 p.m.: As officers tried to move Paisley into a wheelchair, and shackle him, for a trip to the hospital, copious amounts of brown fluid drain from his body. He no longer has any pulse.

June 9, 2003, 9:12 p.m.: Paramedics arrive.

June 9, 2003, 9:43 p.m.: Paisley is declared dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Jan. 27, 2004: Demeritte and Loperfido are indicted by a state grand jury, accused of aggravated manslaughter and third-degree murder.

Feb. 14, 2004: George LaFlam, superintendent of the lockup, resigns.

Feb. 19, 2004: Three other high-ranking DJJ administrators, including Assistant Secretary Larry Lumpee, also resign.

Feb. 21, 2004: Secretary Bill Bankhead announces he will take a four-month medical leave.

Seven boxes of previously unreleased documents tell of the chaos that enveloped the Miami juvenile lockup as Omar Paisley's life slipped away.

After hearing Omar Paisley weep and retch and moan for two days while curled up in a fetal position, detention officers at the Miami juvenile lockup became convinced that the Opa-locka teenager needed help.

''Man, someone needs to get down here, because this kid is sick,'' one officer beseeched a supervisor over the telephone.


But a supervisor scolded Paisley to ''suck it up'' -- ignore the pain -- while a nurse declared, ''Ain't nothing wrong with his ass.'' Paisley, his belly filling with poisons from a ruptured appendix, may have paid for their callousness with his life.

Seven boxes of previously unreleased photos, work logs and sworn testimony, part of a Miami-Dade grand jury investigation into the 17-year-old's death, paint a picture of a detention center wracked by chaos the night Paisley died.

Paralyzed by fear, trained to eschew independent thought or action, officers took no action until a supervisor finally showed up at Paisley's cell with a wheelchair, handcuffs and shackles. Feeling no pulse, they stopped short of handcuffing a dead child.

''Policies and procedures killed Omar Paisley,'' a Miami-Dade guard testified before lawmakers last week.


Arrested March 24, 2003, after an altercation in which he cut a neighbor with a soda can, Paisley pleaded guilty to aggravated battery on June 6 and was awaiting a bed at a residential program for troubled youths when he fell ill. He made a formal request for ''sick call,'' hoping to see a nurse or doctor.

''My stomach hurts really bad,'' he wrote on the form. ``I don't know what to do.''

At 12:10 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, an officer recorded in the lockup log book that Paisley complained he was sick, and refused to eat his lunch -- oatmeal and pancakes, which he gave to his friend Jonas Claude. The nurses' station was alerted.


Both records and interviews suggest the nurse on duty Saturday and Sunday, Gaile Loperfido, made only one visit to Omar Saturday, sometime between the 12:10 p.m log notation and 2:30 p.m. ''Nurse Gail on ward to see Paisley, O.,'' the log book states. ``She determined that [he has] a stomach virus.''

None of several officers who were interviewed saw Loperfido examine the youth or ''palpate'' his abdomen, a medical procedure in which a doctor or nurse feels for signs of appendicitis.

On Sunday, June 8, shortly after 7 a.m., Paisley woke up the two youths in the cell next to him ''moaning and crying,'' they said. Shae Smith and Antwan Walker knocked on their glass doors to get the attention of an officer, Michael Johnson, who then made a phone call to get help.

At 9 a.m., Loperfido visited the youth again, the log book shows. Officers testified she failed to examine him for a second day, although she did order that he remain on bed rest with a liquid diet.

That afternoon, Paisley was sweating profusely, and had trouble talking, the youths in adjacent cells said. When Paisley vomited, Smith and Walker cleaned up the mess. ''Got gloves, bleach and pine sol,'' a report from the Public Defender's Office quotes them as saying.

By Monday morning, the severity of Paisley's condition was becoming more apparent. At 5:30 a.m., a corrections officer, who is not identified, wrote in the log book: ``Paisley is not looking real well, he requested to see nurse.''

Corrections officer Michael Johnson, nicknamed ''Heavy D'' by detainees in a nod to the 1980s rapper of large stature, was working the ''A'' shift in Paisley's module that morning. He told investigators he tried repeatedly to enlist help from either a supervisor or a nurse -- as the lockup's policy required.


Another officer on Module 3 with Johnson, Classy McCullough, overheard Johnson's conversation with a boss as she was standing nearby. ''Man, someone needs to get down here, because this kid is sick,'' she quoted him saying.

''He was upset, and he was fussing, and was was using other choice words,'' she recalled several days later in a statement.

McCullough herself sought help, she testified. 'I went back in a hurry to see supervisor [Jack] Harrington and said, `Hey, something's wrong with that kid. Somebody needs to get over here and see him.' And he yelled at me.''

Harrington did, eventually, come to the module to see what the fuss was about. Paisley tapped on the glass outside his cell to get Harrington's attention, the supervisor said. ''I informed him that the nurse had said it was a stomach virus, and they ordered him not to come out with the other kids,'' he said.


''I told him he had to suck it up and walk around, to wait another day or so,'' Harrington said.

Terry Mixon, a detention officer since 1989, was in charge of the 28 detainees in Mod 3 during ''B'' shift, beginning at 3 p.m. As soon as he arrived, a knot of about eight kids came up to him. Referring to Paisley, of whom Mixon was known to be very fond, they said: ``Your son is sick.''

Johnson briefed Mixon before leaving, as well: ''He stated the kid is in -- Omar is in bad shape,'' Mixon testified.

And, indeed, he was. ''He was laying there and heavy sweating,'' Mixon said in a sworn statement. ``It looked like he had urinated on himself. And I saw the room [was] filthy and dirty. And he grabbed his stomach. With a soft voice, [he] stated to me that his stomach is hurting.''

At first, Mixon left Paisley in his room. ''He asked me not to close his door,'' Mixon testified.

Later, though, Mixon, with the help of another youth, moved Paisley into a red plastic chair just outside the cell. With Paisley out of the room, Mixon enlisted two detainees to help clean out the cell. The sight -- and smell -- were harrowing.

''The smell was awful,'' Mixon testified. The sheets were stained with what appeared to be diarrhea and urine, and Paisley's jumpsuit was filthy.

''He was just holding his stomach, saying he wants to see a doctor,'' Mixon continued.


At dinner time, around 5:30, Mixon told the nurse on duty, Dianne Demeritte, she needed to see Paisley, records show. After dinner, he began calling supervisors on his radio, requesting that Paisley be given medical attention. Officers and supervisors on duty that night all described Mixon's dispatches in similar terms.

''I heard the officer from Mod 3 frantically calling for the nurse, supervisor, anyone that could help,'' officer Johnny Byrd testified in a sworn statement. ``Mr. Mixon, to be frantic about it, to keep calling and calling, something has to be terribly wrong.''

At about 7:50 p.m., Mixon talked with Demeritte over the phone.

''What's wrong with him?,'' she asked.

''How in the hell [should] I know,'' he says he replied. ``All I know [is] something is wrong with him.''

``And she stated, `I'm coming down there, but I don't want to take this [mess] home to my kid.''


Demeritte arrived 10 or 15 minutes later, and insisted on making Paisley, who could barely ''get enough strength to get up,'' walk out of his cell. ''And she walked over and stuck the little thermometer in his mouth,'' Mixon testified. ``And two minutes went by. And she said, `ain't nothing wrong with his ass. Let his ass go back in the room. And then she left.''

After speaking with her boss, Demeritte did an about-face, and completed paperwork to transfer Paisley to Jackson Memorial Hospital, before leaving the lockup for a 45-minute break.

It was not until about 9 p.m. before other officers and supervisors arrived to take Paisley to the hospital.

Jeffrey Stringer, a supervisor at the lockup, was told to bring a wheelchair, handcuffs and leg shackles. Policy had to be followed.

''His eyes were closed,'' Stringer said in a sworn statement. ``He was slumped.''

``His body was just limp, and we just shook him; hey, hey, hey.''

Said Officer Joseph Archange: ``I walked over there and I tapped him. I said, `Omar. Omar. And I tapped him on the shoulder. So I gave him a little strong shake.''

A moment or two later, when officers tried to move Omar to a wheelchair, he drained brownish, foul-smelling fluids from all over his body. ''That frightened them,'' Mixon said of the other officers, ''and they let him lay on the ground.'' Paramedics finally were summoned.

None of the officers attempted CPR however, and an emergency kit, which should have been sealed and included a mask, had been previously used.

By the time paramedics arrived, according to testimony, Paisley had been motionless for at least 10 minutes.


Even after Paisley died, the chaos lingered.

Jailed teen's death leads to charges; Two nurses are charged in the death of Omar Paisley, 17, who was pleading for medical attention at the Dade juvenile lockup. Read article.

When then-Assistant Superintendent Victor Davidson went to Mod 3 to secure the crime scene, he discovered Paisley's evidence-laden soiled jumpsuit, sheets and pillowcase had been sent to the laundry.

''I said, `Well, you need to go back to the laundry room and get it and bring it back over to the mod, because homicide might want it when they come,'' Davidson, who was fired in November, testified.

But the linens were already gone.

See Boot Camp for Kids: Torturing Teenagers for Fun and Profit
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