Randall Jordan-Aparo spent four days begging for medical help. He suffered from a severe blood disorder and was showing signs of a dangerous flare-up: rapid heart beat, fever and debilitating bodily pain. He needed to go to a hospital, he said.
Medical staff were dismissive at the Carrabelle, Fla., prison where Jordan-Aparo was serving a 20-month sentence for credit card fraud. Drink water, take some Tylenol and get some rest, they told him, court records show.
When the 27-year-old protested, correctional officers put him in an isolation cell, then sprayed him with a “chemical restraint agent,” according to court documents. Inmates would later testify that they heard him scream, “I can’t take the gas.”
In a matter of hours, guards found Jordan-Aparo dead on the floor of his cell, covered in orange residue. There was a Bible nearby, and he was positioned near the crack under his door, as if he were struggling for fresh air, according to the Miami Herald.
Jordan-Aparo’s death in September 2010 became the subject of multiple probes, including an inquiry by the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. A federal grand jury returned no indictments.
But a federal lawsuit by Jordan-Aparo’s family is underway, and they recently won a key victory in the case.
On Saturday, a federal judge rejected a request by the Florida Department of Corrections to throw out the lawsuit, which accuses prison workers of violating his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“If the Department asserts that providing at least some treatment is always sufficient to exonerate the Department from liability under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act, the Department is simply wrong,” U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle wrote.
The department denied that prison workers were “deliberately indifferent” to Jordan-Aparo’s needs, noting that medical staff had checked him out several times as he complained of pain and shortness of breath. He was never denied access to medical services in the prison, the department said in an October filing. Nor did prison workers discriminate against him when they declined to take him to the hospital, the filing says.
But the judge ruled that providing some medical treatment could still constitute deliberate indifference.
“A policy of treating strokes or heart attacks with aspirin and nothing more would not do,” he wrote. “And so too here: treating Mr. Jordan-Aparo’s life-threatening symptoms with Tylenol, as the plaintiff alleges occurred, would not do.”
Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady told The Washington Post Thursday that she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because the case is ongoing. Glady said there have been no criminal charges stemming from the Jordan-Aparo’s death. She added that the department had changed its rules to require that inmates receive showers after use-of-force incidents involving chemical agents.
The lawsuit was brought by Jordan-Aparo’s 12-year-old daughter, who was 6 when he died, and her mother. It describes Jordan-Aparo as an orphan who was adopted after his biological parents committed suicide together when he was 5 years old. He had a criminal history of nonviolent crimes that included drug possession.
Jordan-Aparo was sent to the Franklin Correctional Institution in northwest Florida in October 2009. He had pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and was set to serve a 20-month sentence. He was a minimum security prisoner, set to be released in early 2011.
His disability, Osler-Weber-Rendu disease, is a genetic disorder that causes people to develop abnormal blood vessels, which can lead to anemia, severe bleeding and pulmonary complications.
On Sept. 15, 2010, he went to the prison infirmary with pain in his back and his side. Nurses recorded a body temperature of 102.4 degrees. The lawsuit says he had a “serious infection” caused by his disease.
Medical staff “ordered bedrest and Tylenol” and sent him back to his cell, according to the complaint.
Two days later, he went back to the infirmary, the pain on his left side so bad that he couldn’t give a urine sample. It was a “medical emergency,” he said. Drink more water, a nurse told him.
A frustrated Jordan-Aparo demanded to be taken to a hospital and threatened to sue the medical staff. Instead, he was sent to a discipline dorm for disrespecting them.
Meanwhile, his blood pressure rose, his pulse increased and the pain spread to his body and legs. “No labs were taken, no x-rays were taken, and there was no referral to a doctor,” the lawsuit reads.
“The medical services provided to Aparo were objectively insufficient,” it adds. “This is a deliberately indifferent and reckless disregard for the treatment of Aparo’s medical needs and disability.”
Later that night, he reported to the infirmary two more times. His heart rate had soared above 100 beats per minute and he was having trouble breathing. An inmate told a correctional officer that Jordan-Aparo was so sick he had passed out on a toilet and pleaded to go to a hospital, according to the complaint. Prison workers again sent him to a disciplinary dorm for threatening to sue a nurse if he wasn’t taken to a hospital.
On the morning of Sept. 19, correctional officers sprayed him with a gas akin to pepper spray three times in the course of an hour.
According to the complaint, inmates could hear him scream: “I can’t take it. I can’t take the gas. I need a nurse.”
Medical staff conducted a “use of force exam” and were unable to detect his blood pressure, the lawsuit says.
That evening, he was found lying dead on the floor of his cell.
The lawsuit says he was murdered, and accuses prison workers of wrongful death. The alleged motive: Jordan-Aparo had been an informant against guards at another prison. Additionally, it alleges conspiracy, violation of his constitutional rights, and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. A trial is set for spring.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated The Washington Post asked the Florida Department of Corrections for comment on Wednesday. The Post reached out Thursday.