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Lawsuit blames Duval jail for death of inmate who missed heart transplant meds

 Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed by the estate of Dexter Barry.
Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed by the estate of Dexter Barry.

The family of Dexter Barry lists the Jacksonville sheriff as the defendant in a case that spotlighted care provided by the jail's former health care provider, which has since filed to sell its assets and debts.

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters faces anew federal lawsuit filed this week by the family of a man who died after a short stint in Duval County’s jail.

The lawsuit accuses the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office of violating the constitutional rights of 54-year-old Dexter Barry after denying him medication for a heart transplant.

The sheriff’s office did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Officer Jacob McKeon arrested Barry after his neighbor called 911 over an argument they had. A fight never occurred, but Barry was arrested on a simple assault charge after the neighbor said Barry threatened to beat him up if he didn’t pay his share of their Wi-Fi bill.

During his arrest, Barry told McKeon at least seven times that he needed to take his anti-rejection medications every day to survive, according to body camera footage reviewed by The Tributary. The next morning, according to the court transcript, Barry told Judge Gilbert Feltel the same.

“I am on medication,” Barry told the judge. “I just had a heart transplant, and I haven’t taken my medicine all day since I have been locked up, and I take rejection medicines for my heart so my heart won’t reject it, and I’m almost two years out.”

Jail records show that Barry never got his medication. According to Armor Correctional Health Services, which ran the jail’s medical care at the time, it would take a minimum of 48 hours to get the medicine. By then, Barry had gone two days without his medication and bonded out of the jail.

He died Nov. 23, 2022, after collapsing in his living room. An autopsy ordered by his family concluded that he died of a cardiac arrest due to his body rejecting the organ.

Dr. Maya Guglin, an Indiana cardiologist on the board at the American College of Cardiology, previously told The Tributary that organ transplant recipients have to take anti-rejection medications because their bodies view the new organ as an invasion that must be fought off.

“If you just drop those medications, everyone is eventually going to reject that organ,” she said.

Restarting medication later won’t reverse the damage of missing those earlier doses, Guglin said.

The lawsuit, filed by Jacksonville civil rights attorney Andrew Bonderud, said Barry took his medicine diligently every day before his arrest, and, during a checkup seven months earlier, a doctor determined his heart “was in excellent condition” and that his body was responding well to the transplant with medications.

“We look forward to holding the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office accountable for Dexter Barry’s death,” Bonderud told The Tributary on Thursday afternoon. The city owes a debt to Barry’s family after his death, he said.

The lawsuit names the sheriff as the sole defendant, and it said Waters had a duty to provide care to the inmates in his custody and that he failed.

Armor filed to sell the company’s assets and debts in October. In that filing, it said it had more than $150 million in debt. The Barry family’s lawsuit said the company had bragged about its cost-saving measures even as it provided inadequate medical care.

During Armor’s contract, the lawsuit says, the company’s staffing levels were so low that the then-corrections director asked for volunteers from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department to help. The request, Bonderud wrote, did not lead to additional resources to address staffing shortages.

“Sheriff T.K. Waters, individually, and high-level elected officials at the city of Jacksonville were well aware of Armor’s long history of causing injury and loss of inmate lives,” Bonderud wrote in the lawsuit, and despite that, the contract was renewed in late 2022.

A month before the contract renewal, Armor was convicted of a felony over the death of a Wisconsin inmate. That conviction should have made Armor ineligible for the contract.

Then, a July analysis by The Tributary found that deaths tripled after 2017, when the first contract with Armor was signed. Waters ended the $98 million contract in September and signed a more expensive contract with another for-profit medical provider, NaphCare.

The lawsuit accuses Armor of never planning to provide inmates with all their necessary prescription medications, which officials should have known before the contract renewed, Bonderud wrote.

At a meeting recently regarding inmate care at UF Health, NaphCare representative T.J. Meneely said the company had to grow the pharmacy by 20% and buy additional medical carts to catch up from where Armor left off.

This story is published through a partnership between WJCT's Jacksonville Today and The Tributary, a Northeast Florida news outlet.

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