Family sues Orange County jail, nursing staff after inmate's death from police-dog bite

By Christal Hayes | Contact Reporter
Posted July 31, 2017

Watch Video: Family sues Orange County jail, nursing staff after inmate's death from police-dog bite

 

The last two years have been hard for Willine Gracia.

The 46-year-old mother says she can’t eat or sleep and feels she has become a burden on her family since her son died in 2015 — a death that she says was preventable and never should have happened.

Her son, Max Gracia, was bitten by a police dog during his arrest. Four days after being booked into the Orange County Jail, the 22-year-old was dead.

She and her family announced that they filed a federal lawsuit Monday during a news conference at attorney Mark NeJame’s law office, alleging Max Gracia was not properly treated while in the Orange County Jail.

“I don’t know any other way to right this wrong but to sue,” Willine Gracia said. “What can you do? The money won’t bring him back, but that’s the only thing we have.”

The wrongful-death lawsuit was filed against Orange County; Robert Buck, who heads the jail’s health services department; and four nurses at the jail who were responsible for Max Gracia’s care.

Orange County did not immediately provide a statement on the lawsuit Monday.

Max Gracia was arrested Aug. 6, 2015, after Orlando Police say he used a gun to rob a Circle K convenience store on John Young Parkway. Officers say he hid in a nearby lake for more than an hour to avoid being arrested.

A police dog was sent in, but Gracia tried fighting off the K9. He was bitten several times during the struggle and was treated at the hospital.

Four days later — Aug. 10, 2015 — he was found unconscious in his cell, and again taken to the hospital, where he died. His autopsy showed he was bitten several times on his left thigh and leg, which led to an E. coli infection and a fatal blood infection.

An internal investigation showed that Gracia was “groaning in a lethargic manner” and said he couldn’t move.

But he was punished hours before his death after medical staff accused him of “faking or exaggerating" an illness, records show.

The lawsuit states the jail has a “culture of neglect” and claims the county “failed to adequately and properly train and educate their employees.”

It says the county also failed to supervise the performance of employees who are tasked with evaluating and treating inmates who need medical attention, along with alleging the county doesn’t provide enough funding to give adequate care.

Max Gracia’s family also alleges in the suit that the four nurses tasked with caring for him acted with “deliberate indifference” to his well-being.

The family is also suing for medical malpractice and provides a timeline for his stay in the jail, which claims that each nurse failed to follow through and get him to a hospital for treatment.

One nurse resigned and two others were reprimanded after Gracia’s death.

NeJame said the family is seeking damages “in the hopes such an unnecessary death not again occur,” though no exact amount is named in the lawsuit.

Willine Gracia, sitting with family members, started to tear up as she explained what she has gone through the past two years.

“My children are my everything,” she said. “… [He] was taken from me, and it’s not fair because it’s not about the money. It’s not about the money.”

She said her son’s prior run-ins with law enforcement — which kept him in and out of jail on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery and robbery — don’t matter. She said everyone deserves better treatment than what he was provided.

“It doesn’t matter about what got us here. It doesn’t matter about the color of the skin. It’s just that it’s not right. It just wasn’t right,” she said. “We didn’t have to be here. My son could still be alive, and that’s the thing that’s so sad. It could have been prevented, and it wasn’t.”

chayes@orlandosentinel.com, 407-420-5493 or Twitter: @journo_christal

Source: Orlando Sentinel