WESH 2 investigates Orange County inmate's death

Family filing wrongful death lawsuit against Orange County Jail

By Matt Grant
Posted May 24, 2016

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —He was chased down, bitten by a dog and later found dead in a jail cell.

Max Gracia, 22, died from an infection which developed in open wounds caused by a police K-9.

WESH 2 News was there as Gracia was arrested last year and obtained exclusive video recorded in the Orange County Sheriff's Office helicopter.

OCSO and the Orlando Police Department were searching for a suspect involved in an armed robbery at a gas station in August 2015.

Sabre, an Orlando police K-9, is seen lunging at Gracia, who retreats into the shallow waters of Lake Mann.

In sworn statements, officers said Gracia was choking the dog and struggling with it. Officers also wrote that Gracia "continued to resist and strike, making no attempt to stop."

For three minutes, the K-9 was visibly attached to Gracia.

"Why did the dog need to keep on grabbing at him?" said Gracia's family attorney, Mark NeJame.

Once the dog is seen letting go of Gracia, he escapes and heads back into the lake with an open bite wound from the K-9. Officers arrived in a boat and he was taken into custody.

Only WESH 2 News was there as Gracia was handcuffed. He was taken to the hospital and then jail.

Four days after the video was taken, he was found unresponsive in his jail cell.

"It was wrong on multiple levels. It needs to be investigated, it needs to be dealt with and it needs to be fixed," NeJame said.

The medical examiner's report shows Gracia complained of weakness and dizziness the day before he died. He told staff members he was unable to get out of bed and take his medication.

"He's screaming, he's crying, other inmates are saying this guy needs help, and nobody stood up. Nobody did anything except ignore his cries of help," NeJame said.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, saying he fell into septic shock as a result of infected dog bite wounds.

NeJame is filing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family.

"Why would a normal dog bite that's treated properly have led to a death?" NeJame said.

WESH 2 News Investigates looked at jail records and found one nurse resigned after this case. Discipline records WESH 2 News obtained show that a nurse discharged Gracia from the infirmary without evaluating him and failed to document anything. Two others received written reprimands.

Gracia's father, a Navy veteran, is demanding accountability for his son's death.

"This is the United States of America. Our enemies would have gotten treatment in that situation," he said.

The jail has made changes about how they treat inmates. Nurses have been educated about identifying sepsis and the number of times vital signs must be taken has increased.

For Gracia's family, though, it's too little, too late.

"The manner at which he died, it has killed me," Gracia's mother said.

Jail leaders will not say what treatment, if any, Gracia received, citing patient privacy laws. 

Source: Wesh 2