A 17-year-old boy in the custody of state juvenile justice administrators was grievously injured in a melee at Miami-Dade County’s long troubled lockup, but he was not sent to the hospital until the next day.
By then, it was too late: Elord Revolte, a foster child who had been roaming the streets before his Aug. 28 arrest, became the second child held in a Department of Juvenile Justice detention center to die this year.
Elord’s death is now under investigation by both Miami-Dade Police and the Department of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking to learn of the death of this young man,” DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said in a statement. “In addition to [an] investigation being conducted by Miami-Dade police, the department has initiated our own investigation to ensure that our very high standards of accountability and transparency are met and all proper procedures were followed.”
“At the conclusion of the investigation, we will inform the public of the findings and take all appropriate action to ensure that we prevent any tragedy like this from ever occurring again,” Daly said. “If policies or procedures were not followed, we will hold the appropriate individuals accountable.”
Elord’s death on Monday night renews longstanding questions about the provision of healthcare to children in the custody of the state. In February, 14-year-old Andre Sheffield died at DJJ’s lockup in Brevard County of bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain. Andre had complained of a headache and stomach pain, soiled himself, limped and fell over in the hours before he died.
Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez was working as an assistant in the office in 2003 when another 17-year-old, Omar Paisley, died a slow, agonizing death from appendicitis while at the Miami lockup, located at 3300 NW 27th Ave. Martinez said he was stunned that another youth may have died at the detention center for lack of proper care.
“They did not have control of the kids if a melee broke out,” said Martinez, whose office had been appointed to represent Elord on armed robbery charges. “And then they didn’t provide medical attention to a kid when he got the heck kicked out of him.”
“I’m in disbelief,” Martinez said. “It’s 12 years after Omar Paisley, and here we are again with a kid who apparently did not get the immediate medical services he should have gotten.”
Elord, sources told the Herald, was born in Haiti. His father brought him to South Florida, sources said, and then essentially abandoned him.
The teen wound up in foster care, and had a handful of contacts with police and youth corrections programs in both Miami and Palm Beach County within the past few years. In May 2014, Elord was issued a “judicial warning” by a Miami Juvenile Court judge after being charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief and trespassing. The following February, he served time in a moderate-risk youth corrections program after being charged with battering a corrections officer.
Elord was a chronic runaway, sources said. On July 15, administrators with the Children’s Home Society, which operates foster homes in Miami, placed Elord with a foster family on Miami Beach. He remained at the home for two days before running. Records show that, on July 21, a Miami judge signed a “pickup order” — a kind of be-on-the-lookout for missing kids — instructing police or social workers to return the youth to state custody, if found.
Elord’s last foster mother said it didn’t appear as if anyone was really looking. Other foster children in her home would report seeing Elord on South Beach while he was missing, and she forwarded the sightings to police, she said.
“The kids would say, ‘I saw Elord on the beach,’” the foster mother said “Nobody really cared.”
All of Elord’s clothes remain stuffed in a black garbage bag in the Miami Beach foster home. The foster mother said she had asked caseworkers to retrieve the teen’s clothing weeks ago. They never did.
He was eventually returned to state custody, but in handcuffs.
On Aug. 28, Miami Beach police officers arrested Elord after he and one or more companions allegedly stole a cellphone. Sources told the Herald that one of the alleged assailants carried a gun. Elord was taken to the lockup, where he remained while prosecutors evaluated whether they wished to file charges against him as an adult, sources said. He made an initial appearance before a judge around Aug. 28. His next court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 17.
Both DJJ and county police say a fight broke out at the lockup sometime Sunday afternoon; a DJJ news release does not specify the time. A release from Miami-Dade police said the fight confrontation involved “approximately 15 to 20 juvenile inmates, and added that “during the altercation Elord was injured.”
An internal DJJ incident report, obtained Tuesday by the Herald, said that Elord “complained that day of soreness to his body.” The incident report was described as a “complaint against staff” and a “medical incident.”
Both agencies say Elord received some kind of medical attention while at the lockup. “Immediately following the incident, the youth was assessed by contracted medical personnel,” DJJ wrote.
The next day, Monday, Elord “was vomiting and complained of nausea,” the incident report said. “He was taken to medical and assessed by the facility nurse, who made a decision to send him out as a precaution.”
In its statement, DJJ said Miami-Dade police had been at the lockup “since early [Tuesday] morning.” The agency also had asked members of its Employee Assistance Program and “mental health counselors to assist staff and the children with this tragedy.”
County police said they do not yet know the cause of the teen’s death, though an autopsy is being completed.
Late Tuesday, a spokeswoman declined to discuss any details of the medical care provided to the teen. “DJJ protocol dictates that if a youth in one of our facilities needs outside medical attention, they get it without hesitation,” said Heather M. DiGiacomo.
That has not always been the case.
Omar Paisley, a 17-year-old from Opa-locka, had been arrested on March 24, 2003, after he cut a neighbor with a soda can during a fight. Beginning around noon on June 7 of that year, he began to complain that he was sick and in pain. For three days, guards and nurses ignored the teen’s pleas for help, and he died amid his own waste in a cell just as guards arrived — handcuffs and leg shackles in hand — to take him to the hospital.
The teen’s death shook the state, causing about 25 departures among DJJ employees, including then-Secretary William G. “Bill” Bankhead, and much of his administrative staff. A Miami grand jury charged two nurses with manslaughter and third-degree murder in Omar’s death, calling the caregivers’ actions callous and “outrageous.” One of the nurses pleaded guilty, years later, to misdemeanor culpable negligence.
Grand jurors also decried “the utter lack of humanity demonstrated” by officers at the lockup the week Omar died, concluding the 226-bed detention center was poorly administered, woefully underfunded and sometimes left in the hands of officers who showed little empathy or regard for the children in their care.
DJJ administrators vowed to “treat every child as if he were your own.” But, in the ensuing years, more children died.
In February, DJJ administrators disciplined six staff members following the death of Andre Sheffield in Brevard. The lockup’s superintendent, Vicki Alves, was suspended for five days for “poor performance” and “negligence.” Her deputy received a written reprimand for poor performance. Three guards who were faulted for ignoring sick-call procedure or failing to seek medical care for a sick detainee were given written reprimands, as well.
Miami Herald staff writers Carli Teproff and Joey Flechas contributed to this report.