Crime

Records show security lapse in Aventura Hospital murder

Aventura Hospital and Medical Center
Aventura Hospital and Medical Center Miami Herald File

Captured on video surveillance, Raul Alexander Rios was last seen alive on the afternoon of June26 as he walked into his fourth-floor room inside the psychiatric ward of Aventura Hospital.

At 1:43p.m., a student intern peeked into room412. Under hospital rules, staffers were supposed to check on Rios 15 minutes later.

But newly released police records show that minute after minute melted away as his new roommate, Alexander Jackson, shuffled in and out. It was not until a hospital cleaning woman walked in to tidy up the room — 92 minutes later — that she discovered Rios on the floor, face down, stretched out atop a bed sheet.

Rios was dead, strangled with a bed sheet.

“They’re supposed to be, you know, rounding and making sure patients are safe and secure on a 15-minute round basis,” Denise O’Connell, the head of Aventura’s Behavioral Health unit, told detectives shortly after the slaying.

Witness statements and police documents, released as part of the criminal case against Jackson, provide new details surrounding the slaying at the Biscayne Boulevard hospital. The security gap may also explain why the hospital — barely less than two months after Rios’ slaying — reached a settlement with his family in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

“I don’t understand how the hospital could let this happen,” Rios’ mother, Francis Paloumbis, told reporters several days after the death. “Where were the doctors, the nurses, the security?”

Rios’ relatives and their lawyers declined comment for this story. A hospital spokeswoman, Kathryn Walton, did not return repeated calls and emails from the Miami Herald.

As for Jackson, the 29-year-old drifter brought into the hospital by police and now charged with second-degree murder, he won’t be going to trial anytime soon.

A Miami-Dade judge has found Jackson mentally incompetent to proceed to trial — his mind so unstable that he cannot help his defense team in preparing a case. Jackson, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and had refused to take his medication, is now in a secure state forensic hospital receiving treatment.

Jackson, who went by the aliases Aaron Kokochak and Alex Jones, claimed to authorities that he had walked to South Florida from Ohio. But records show him hailing from North Carolina. He has a long history of arrests in northern Florida and North Carolina, including for assault, possession and theft. According to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, he served jail time for assaulting a woman.

Locally, police arrested him on June 20 for trespassing and resisting arrest at a Lincoln Road condo building in Miami Beach.

Residents told police “he was trying to attack them physically” while claiming he owned the building. When an officer approached, he balled his fists and said, “you are not taking me anywhere,” according to an arrest report.

After he was released from jail, a similar episode unfolded six days later.

On June26, Sunny Isles Beach police nabbed him at the swank Trump TowerIII high-rise condos on the 15800 block of Collins Avenue.

“For trying to check into my own building,” he later told detectives.

Sunny Isles police detained him under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows law enforcement to involuntarily admit someone to a crisis center if they are a danger to themselves or others. Under the law, a patient can be held up to 72 hours while he or she is evaluated.

Police took him to Aventura Hospital, one of several local private facilities that admit Baker Act patients. He was placed into room412 with Rios, who had struggled with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia since he was young. Rios had been admitted voluntarily into the psychiatric unit.

Days before his slaying, Rios had celebrated his 32nd birthday — an event marked by his mother and him sharing chocolate cupcakes and Doritos with fellow patients.

Under Florida law or administrative rules, there are no requirements that patients brought in involuntarily be housed separately from voluntary patients. Patients from both groups can be dangerous to others, and homicides in such facilities are extremely rare, according to mental health advocates.

“Nothing would preclude a hospital from housing these two people together,” said Martha Linderman, a Florida Baker Act expert who often testifies in court cases and who is not involved in the case.

Under Florida Department of Children & Families rules, a Baker Act patient can also be supervised one-on-one or even separated from other patients, but only if they show signs of aggression.

But video footage reviewed by police, chronicled in a detailed time line, shows that in the initial hours after Jackson arrived, his behavior appeared uneventful, although like other patients he had the freedom to walk around the halls.

Jackson, his arm in a sling from an injury, paced the unit, biting his nails for the better part of the morning. One patient described him as “timid.”

Both Jackson and Rios were in and out of their room. In a common area, Rios “was quite lively, he was walking and laughing to himself,” one employee recalled.

Rios returned to room412 at 1:28p.m., with Jackson inside. Exactly when Jackson allegedly strangled Rios is unclear — for the next hour and a half, Jackson went in and out of the room.

When Brinda Scott, the housekeeper, walked in, she discovered Rios on the ground. “I thought he was sleeping. I was shocked to see him lying down there,” Scott told police.

Scott immediately summoned administrators. Security officers, technicians and nurses began scrambling. Staffers declared “a code blue,” an emergency situation, and called police.

Meanwhile, Jackson was still wandering around the floor, witnesses told police. An occupational therapist saw Jackson — his hair wet, no socks on — nervously pacing the halls. She separated him for an evaluation. He claimed “there was a fight” but mostly repeated “no comment.”

Later, in a dining room, Jackson admitted to another patient “I really f---ed up.” Blood appeared to be under his fingernails.

“He said him, him and his friend was hanging out and things got out of control,” the patient told police.

Aventura police detectives soon interviewed Jackson, who rambled and repeatedly refused to talk. Rios, he claimed, “said a lot of things that seemed weird and strange. Talking about really horrible things.”

Apparently delusional, Jackson told police that Rios “threatened to kill my ex-girlfriend’s kid. … I actually heard that he had sent a serial killer professionally hired mercenary to kill my … personal bodyguard.”

Ultimately, Jackson confessed to killing Rios, police said.

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