After his arrest on a murder charge, Andres Diaz died after suffering a blow to the head.
He was not in jail. Instead, Diaz was hurt inside a room at Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, under the supervision of two Miami-Dade corrections officers. He underwent surgery and lingered for 12 days before dying last month.
Exactly how Diaz hurt his head remains murky. Internal reports obtained by the Miami Herald show that two jail officers claimed that Diaz — while shackled to the bed by a long leg chain — suddenly stood up and dove head first into a window in a suicide attempt.
But before succumbing to his injuries Diaz told his defense attorney a completely different story — that he tripped on the leg chain after going to the bathroom, hitting his head and also suffering injuries to his shoulder, arm and hand.
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“It’s totally inconsistent with what he told me,” said attorney Maritza Alvarez-Shapiro of the jailers’ version of events. “I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer for over 20 years and I’ve never had this happen to a client.”
Diaz’s strange demise has now sparked a Miami-Dade police investigation and has raised the possibility that jail officers were less than truthful about what happened inside room 623 on the night of Sept. 8.
A Miami-Dade corrections spokeswoman said the department could not comment because “this is an open and pending investigation.”
A spokeswoman for Palmetto said she could not comment because of patient privacy laws. “It remains our policy to cooperate and assist all local and federal authorities in their investigations,” said spokeswoman Shelly Weiss.
So far, Diaz’s relatives have been unable to get any official version of what happened from Miami-Dade corrections. “The family is distraught and has been unable to get any information,” Alvarez-Shapiro said.
Diaz, 58, was accused of shooting and killing Ricky Iglesias, 43, during a road-rage episode in the rural Redland neighborhood of South Miami-Dade on Aug. 28.
According to an arrest warrant, Iglesias and a woman were riding an all-terrain vehicle on Southwest 194th Avenue when they narrowly missed a collision with Diaz, who was a passenger in a Dodge Journey driven by his wife.
Diaz’s wife and Iglesias cursed at each other as they passed each other on the road. According to police, Diaz told his wife to turn the car around, where they pulled up alongside the ATV, which had stopped because of a flat tire.
Diaz’s wife and Iglesias “became involved in a heated verbal dispute” before she drove off about 50 yards, deciding to turn around and drive back yet again. This time, according to an arrest warrant, Diaz and his wife saw that Iglesias had a “green glass bottle in his hand.”
The argument continued as Iglesias walked toward the SUV. Diaz shot Iglesias once in the chest, killing him. He immediately claimed self-defense.
“The suspect claims he shot the victim because he thought the victim was going to hit him the glass bottle, take his firearm, and then shoot him” and his wife, Miami-Dade Detective Juan Chaidez wrote in an arrest warrant.
Diaz, who worked installing home security systems, did not flee the scene and was not immediately arrested. He later surrendered to police on Sept. 6 and was booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Facility.
He planned to invoke Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law, and already had a hearing set to ask for bail on the charge of second-degree murder.
It is unclear if Diaz was on suicide watch, although he did appear in bond court wearing a padded vest reserved for inmates who might be a risk to themselves. When he was taken to the hospital two days later, however, he was admitted because of chest pains.
According to the internal corrections reports, Diaz was inside the sixth-floor room with corrections officers Marshall Hamilton and Mitchell Honig. He was shackled to the bed with a “long leg chain,” according to the internal corrections reports.
At 5:30 p.m., Honig claimed, Diaz “without any warning” stood up on his bed and hurled himself into the window next to him. “This happened so fast, in one motion, it was unable to be prevented.”
Honig, who was sitting in a chair next to the bed, claimed that he tried to grab Diaz before he jumped head first into the window, to no avail. “The window did not break” and Diaz suffered a “laceration” to the head, according to his report.
Hamilton’s report offered the same account. Both said hospital staff were immediately summoned to help Diaz, who was moved to a critical-care unit.
Another corrections supervisor later reported that a member of the nursing staff told him that Diaz admitted to trying to jump out of the window.
Why Diaz would try to jump from the window with his leg shackled to the bed remains unclear. Afterward, according to a memo sent by a corrections lieutenant, Diaz was handcuffed to the bed and expressly forbidden from using the room’s bathroom.
Not long after Diaz was hurt, he had surgery at Palmetto for his head wound. Shortly after, his lawyer visited him in the hospital, where he was in a different room.
Alvarez-Shapiro said that a corrections officer, unprompted, immediately volunteered information about Diaz trying to kill himself.
But when she spoke to Diaz himself, quietly and out of earshot from the officers, he denied jumping into the window. “What he told me was that he got out of bed, walked to the bathroom and was on his way back when he tripped over the chain and hit his head,” she said.
Diaz did not say on what — whether the floor or the bed or some other object — he hit his head.
Medical records do backup that Diaz hurt his hand, arm and shoulder, which would be consistent with him trying to brace his fall. “I don’t know how they explain the arm, hand and shoulder,” Alvarez-Shapiro said.
An autopsy revealed that Diaz died of blunt-force trauma, but so far, investigators have not ruled whether the death was a suicide or an accident.