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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In an exclusive interview with the News4JAX I-TEAM, Sheriff T.K. Waters said Wednesday that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is reviewing its contract with a company that provides healthcare to Duval County inmates.
He said he didn’t know about the company’s past criminal convictions until they were exposed by the I-TEAM in recent days.
“Thank you, guys,” Waters said. “I found out from you all, your story.”
He said he has a big decision to make when it comes to Armor Health, which is contracted to provide healthcare at the Duval County jail, and he’s comfortable making it.
For now, he said, the Sheriff’s Office is continuing to look at the local contract with Armor, as is the city of Jacksonville’s office of general counsel.
Sheriff Waters’s interview Wednesday is the first time he’s spoken publicly about the death of former Duval County inmate Dexter Barry and the fallout that’s followed.
“He got released and then, unfortunately, he lost his life,” Waters said. “All that stuff is still under investigation.”
Barry was a 54-year-old heart transplant recipient. He was arrested on a charge of simple assault in November and was accused of verbally threatening his neighbor.
Barry took medication to keep his body from attacking his transplanted heart.
“I can’t miss no doses,” he could be heard telling the arresting officer in video obtained by News4JAX.
Jail medical records provided by an attorney for Barry’s family show he never received any doses of that mediation the weekend he spent in the Duval County jail.
He died a few days after being released. An autopsy commissioned by his family showed “the transplanted heart showed severe autoimmune reaction.” The doctor performing the autopsy said they didn’t feel qualified to speculate on the effect of Barry’s missed anti-rejection medication. They also wrote Barry’s cause of death was cardiac arrest, most probably due to a severe autoimmune reaction to his heart.
The company contracted to provide healthcare to local inmates like Barry is now under scrutiny.
In October of last year, a Wisconsin jury convicted Armor Correctional Health Services of seven counts of intentionally falsifying healthcare records and one count of inmate abuse or neglect, which is a felony.
According to local news reports, an inmate in the Milwaukee County jail died of dehydration after the water in his cell was cut off for a week and jail staff altered records to cover it up.
Two weeks after the jury returned the guilty verdicts against the Armor, the company entered a $98 million five-year contract with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. But in the contract, Armor wrote its partners and staff do not have any pending criminal charges or felony convictions.
“We’re reviewing everything,” Sheriff Waters said. “This has been a constant process since I took office in November.”
He notes the contract with Armor was signed before he took office and said he didn’t know about the criminal convictions until recently.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t know about that ahead of time,” Waters said.
The I-TEAM previously reported seven Armor executives donated $7,000 to Waters’ campaign the week before he was elected. It was just a few days after their new contract was signed. A spokesperson for Armor said individual political donations are personal decisions, not a company matter.
Waters said the I-TEAM’s reporting on the donations was “a little bit misleading.”
“I got donations from thousands of people, I mean, hundreds and hundreds of people, over $2 million worth of donations,” he said. “You don’t know everyone you’re getting them from. It has nothing to do with Armor or keeping their services or anything else like that. That’s got to be completely clear.”
The I-TEAM asked what could happen if the JSO or the city finds Armor misled them in their contract or if the state bans them from government contracting due to the conviction, which is a possible outcome of an investigation underway.
“There’s a huge dynamic in place. We have a new mayor taking over, we have a new council taken over as you know, so all those discussions have to take place. There’s a lot more than just me and being involved in this. But I have a pretty heavy decision to make, and I’m comfortable with decision-making. And as soon as we’re all finished, you guys will know exactly what I’m going to do,” he said.
Armor Health is appealing its convictions in Wisconsin.
The company’s Chief Operating Officer also released a statement Tuesday evening contending that Barry’s missed anti-rejection medication doses did not cause his death. The statement also said the anti-rejection medication for Barry’s heart was ordered, but it takes at least 48 hours to be located and then additional time to be administered.
By the time the medication was available, Barry had been released, according to the COO.
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