Even in a prison system known for questionable deaths, the case of Randall Jordan-Aparo stands out. Jordan-Aparo, a petty criminal known to suffer from a serious blood disorder, was gassed by corrections officers at Franklin Correctional Institution while pleading for medical attention. He collapsed and died in his cell, his corpse and clothing coated with a noxious, orange residue.
After his family sued, the the Florida Department of Corrections asked for the lawsuit to be tossed out.
This past week, the department got its answer: an emphatic no.
“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,” Senior U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle wrote in his ruling. ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The complaint rests on the actions of staff against Jordan-Aparo, whose condition was well-documented in his department medical files, according to the suit. When symptoms emerged, medical staff told him not to pick at his skin so as to not cause bleeding. When he complained of blood in his mouth and urine, a nurse threatened to file a disciplinary report. When he complained of back and flank pain and had a temperature of 102.4, staff gave him Tylenol.
Jordan-Aparo wanted to go to the hospital.
He was told “no.”
On Sept. 19, 2010, after he cursed at a nurse, staff forced him into a 13-by-8 cell and gassed him with 600 grams of chemical agents, according to a 2014 Miami Herald investigation. Inmates in the area heard him scream: “I can’t take it. I can’t take the gas. I need a nurse!”
Hours later, Jordan-Aparo was dead. He was found on the floor of the cell with a weathered paperback Bible by his side, and was positioned as if he’d spent his last moments gasping for fresh air through the narrow crack beneath the door.
The department, in its motion, argued it did provide medical treatment, albeit not the hospitalization Jordan-Aparo wanted. And though Hinkle conceded that negligence or providing the wrong treatment doesn’t necessarily violate the law, he noted that one can provide some treatment and still be deliberately indifferent — still discriminate based on disability.
“A policy of treating strokes or heart attacks with aspirin and nothing more would not do. And so too here: Treating Mr. Jordan-Aparo’s life-threatening symptoms with Tylenol, as the plaintiff alleges occurred, would not do,” he wrote.
Following Jordan-Aparo’s death, a routine staff inquiry found nothing of concern. But when FDC inspector general staffers visited the prison to investigate another matter, they learned details of the death and were shocked. When they reported back to their boss, they said they were warned to butt out or face serious consequences.
The FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ultimately investigated the death but no charges were filed, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the FDLE.
Randall C. Berg, Jr., executive director for the Florida Justice Institute, which has sued the department over its treatment of inmates with disabilities, said the incident never should have happened, given Jordan-Aparo’s known medical condition.
“They should not have used chemical agents on him in the first place,” he said.
With Hinkle’s ruling, the case will proceed and go to trial next year, with a scheduled start of May 7, said Ryan Andrews, one of the Tallahassee attorneys representing the family.
Berg said he hopes the lawsuit causes the department to reconsider when it uses chemical agents on inmates.
“One would hope if the department continues to have to pay off judgments in this manner that the department would change its policy,” he said.
Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said that following Jordan-Aparo’s death, the department did amend its procedures, requiring mandatory showers following use-of-force incidents where chemical agents are used.