Max Gracia’s family claims a Florida jail did not treat him for an infected dog bite he sustained after a police canine subdued him. Instead, the family claims in a new lawsuit, nurses accused him of faking sickness.
Gracia, 22, was bitten several times by a police dog during his arrest for armed-robbery in Orange County, Florida in August 2015. He was taken to a hospital for treatment before he was booked into jail. Three days later, infection had set in and he was crying for help before he was found unresponsive the next day. A medical examiner determined Gracia’s cause of death as homicide.
The suit alleges that his death was the result of “deliberate indifference” on the part of the county and the jail staff, which created a “culture of neglect” and failed to provide him with medical care as the infection spread to his lungs.
“He was treated in a way that we wouldn’t treat the worst among us or a rabid animal,” said attorney Mark NeJame at a press conference Monday.
Three days after his arrest the suit says Gracia complained of “weakness and dizziness.”
Later that day he was written up after telling a nurse he could not move from his bed when she came to give him medicine. The nurse interpreted his immobility as “implicit refusal for medication” and advised the officer on duty that Gracia was “faking or exaggerating his medical condition and inability to get up,” according to an incident report charging him with insubordination and feigning illness.
The next day the suit says Gracia was documented “twisting himself and moaning loudly on the bed.” He said he “can’t do it,” before sliding onto the floor. Instead of providing help, a nurse wrote that he was refusing orders and “refusing all treatment,” in what the suit calls a “cover-up of the total lack of care” provided “during the critical hours preceding [Gracia’s] otherwise avoidable demise.”
He was eventually found unresponsive in his jail cell and taken back to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy found that Gracia died from septic shock.
“You can't treat a human being that way,” said his mother, Willine Gracia, on Monday. “It doesn't matter about color, race. None of that matters. My son screamed and laid there in agony and pain, dying...I don’t know any other way to right this wrong but to sue. What can you do? The money won’t bring him back but that’s the only thing we have."
The lawsuit specifically names Robert Buck III, the Orange County medical director for Corrections Health Services, and jail nurses Maryanne Evans, Karen Clairmont, Elsa Gollaza-Gonzalez, and Lynn Marie Harter. Clairmont has resigned since Gracia’s death, and Evans and Gollaza-Gonzalez have been reprimanded and put under administrative review, the Orlando-Sentinel reported.
“They would have known that his cries for help were real if they had looked,” NeJame told The Daily Beast. “That type of mistreatment of a human being who’s in your care is simply unacceptable, and the family has been adamant in seeking justice so this doesn’t happen to another family.”
This isn’t the first time Orange County has been sued for failing to provide proper medical care. In 1998, a woman died in her cell while nurses and jail guards documented her worsening condition and argued over who was her official caretaker. She had been taking daily doses of methadone but was forced to quit cold turkey after her arrest, causing her to experience severe symptoms of withdrawal. An autopsy later found that after the woman had died from a heart attack brought on by malnutrition and an electrolyte imbalance caused by a lack of treatment for her frequent vomiting and diarrhea.
Another woman died in 2001 after the jail denied her similar treatment. That year the jail changed its treatment policies to provide inmates with better medical help and expand the treatment available to inmates struggling with addiction.
Years later, NeJame said the jail is still failing to provide its inmates proper medical care.
“From all that we can observe now they’ve slipped back into the abyss.”