Jailed teen's death leads to charges; Two nurses are charged in the death of Omar Paisley, 17, who was pleading for medical attention at the Dade juvenile lockup.
By CAROL MARBIN MILLER, cmarbin@herald.com
Miami Herald, January 28, 2004

Declaring their actions callous and ''outrageous,'' a grand jury Tuesday charged two nurses with manslaughter and third-degree murder for ignoring the desperate pleas of a dying teenager at the Miami-Dade juvenile lockup.

If convicted in the death of Omar Paisley, Gaile Tucker Loperfido and Dianne Marie Demeritte could face 30 years in prison.

Paisley, a 17-year-old from Opa-locka, died June 9 of a ruptured appendix after begging for three days for medical attention. His death, called ''tragic'' and ''preventable'' by the grand jury, sparked a cry for reform in Florida's juvenile justice system.

''When a child dies of an easily treatable illness, it's a tragedy,'' State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said after the indictments were presented. ``The members of this grand jury agree, and they see it as far more than that. They call it a crime.''

The grand jury also rendered a blistering 50-page report, handed up at noon to Circuit Judge Judith L. Kreeger, that criticized ''the utter lack of humanity demonstrated'' by officers at the 226-bed Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center at 3300 NW 27th Ave. in Miami.

As the documents were delivered, grand jury forewoman Concepcion Portela dabbed tears from her eyes and softly wept. Assistant State Attorney Bronwyn Miller also was red-eyed as she hugged grand jurors.

The panel report laid bare a state juvenile justice system that, grand jurors claimed, was poorly administered, woefully underfunded, and sometimes left in the hands of officers who show little empathy or regard for the children they oversee.

Paisley's plight and the actions of staff at the detention center were detailed in a series of Herald stories.


Loperfido, a licensed practical nurse with 25 years experience, and Demeritte failed to provide medical care ''that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of [a] child,'' the indictments said.

The grand jury also suggested Loperfido may have documented visits to Paisley, and a physical examination, that never took place in an attempt to cover up her misconduct.

Paisley's mother, Cherry Williams, said the indictments and report offered her little comfort.

''There is nothing to feel happy about, because nothing can bring [Omar] back,'' Williams said.

Melvin Black, an attorney for Demeritte, declined to comment Tuesday.

Loperfido's attorney, Richard B. Marx, said, ``We are going to defend this vigorously, and my client is absolutely not guilty.''

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary William G. ''Bill'' Bankhead said Tuesday his agency would ''fully cooperate'' with prosecutors, and seek improvements to his agency the grand jury suggested ``as appropriate.''

Gov. Jeb Bush said Bankhead retains his support.

Loperfido saw Paisley at about 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 7 -- two days before he died -- and at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

The grand jury contends she concocted medical logs to show additional visits on both of those days that never occurred.

Additionally the report says that Loperfido never took the medical tools -- such as a thermometer or blood pressure cuff -- to do a proper physical examination.


Paisley's condition deteriorated enormously the day he died. As early as 5:30 a.m. Monday, a detention officer ''urgently [requested] medical care'' from Demeritte. ''By most accounts, Omar spent Monday in excruciating pain,'' the report said. ``He was unable to get out of bed and continued vomiting and excreting on himself.''

By Monday evening, detention officer Terry Mixon was desperate to secure medical attention for Paisley. ''Numerous officers heard Officer Mixon frantically requesting assistance over the radio from a nurse or supervisor,'' the report said. ``These calls continued for an hour and a half, but there was no immediate response.''

But Mixon was the only officer overseeing 20 youths that day, and could not leave his post to get help. Demeritte, the report says, ''finally made her way'' to Paisley's cell after 8 p.m. ''Omar could barely move'' the report said. ``Demeritte stated that she had a child at home and did not wish to contaminate her child with Omar's virus.''

Youth died amid chaos, confusion.
Read article.
Detainees testified Demeritte was ''laughing'' on the phone with her supervisor when she asked for an ambulance. It was not until 9:01 p.m. that a nurse called for paramedics. Omar was declared dead at 9:43 p.m. at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Paisley, Fernández Rundle said, ''spent the last three days of his life in agony, and finally died sitting in a chair in the hallway. It shouldn't take a child's senseless death to get a government agency's priorities in order,'' Fernández Rundle said.

Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

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