Incarceration Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

When he was booked into the Dade County Jail, Earl Cole was a sick man. Not for long.

Phyllis Gunn keeps a letter her brother wrote to his attorney before he was arrested that documents his worries about returning to jail. Cole, a former Delray Beach police officer, already had spent time in jail at least twice on similar charges. He had been arrested in February 1994 in Deerfield Beach after police searched his car and found fourteen false IDs. According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, he held licenses or IDs under 60 different names. At the time, he avoided jail because of his poor health. He was arrested again that November when he tried to pay for merchandise at BrandsMart with a check that was drawn on a closed bank account.

"My brother was, like, almost frightened," Gunn recalls, speaking from her Delray Beach home. "He just didn't want to go back there. He had been there once before and they treated him mean. They thought he was lying and they wouldn't take him for his treatment. He said they put him in a room and just left him there for so many hours without even coming to check on him, and when they finally came to check on him he was so weak he was lying on the floor."

Charo, Cole's twenty-year-old daughter, says her father was fastidious about his health. "My father knew how sick he was and he knew he needed his dialysis," she insists. "He would have made sure that he got his treatment. Someone needs to find out what happened, because it doesn't make any sense."

Dr. Luis Sirotzky, Cole's personal physician, has stated in an affidavit drafted in support of the lawsuit that Cole received inadequate care and that his death was caused by "acts of medical malpractice and negligence."

Dr. Roger E. Mittleman, the chief Dade County medical examiner, reviewed the report of Cole's autopsy at New Times's request. At the time of his death, Cole suffered from pneumonia and heart disease as well as kidney problems, Mittleman says. Although the primary cause of death was heart failure, the medical examiner points out that kidney failure could have irritated Cole's heart condition. "This is a man who was really a time bomb. He could have died at any second," Mittleman observes.

If that was the case, Jeff Norkin wants to know, why wasn't Cole taken to the hospital? "He was allowed to waste away in his cell with little or no medical attention until it was too late," fumes the attorney. "They watched this guy sleeping for three straight days and they did nothing.

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