By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
In mid-March his mother visited. She barely recognized him. "I just started crying," says Nikki Moffett.
Circuit Court Judge Mark Leban was also shocked by Moffett's appearance. On March 28, the same day the short-order cook was sentenced for violating probation, Leban recommended Moffett receive a medical evaluation. Court records indicate the judge was aware Moffett had "skin problems, chest pains, and breathing problems." He also had contracted a staph infection.
Just days later, Moffett had a seizure and his face was swollen beyond belief, court records show. He went back to court — but corrections officers refused to bring him inside the courtroom because of the way he looked. Attorney Scott Pettus pointed out that his client hadn't yet seen a doctor, so Leban sent his bailiff into the holding cell. After hearing from the bailiff that Moffett was indeed ailing, Leban released the inmate on the spot. The cook immediately hobbled to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he stayed two weeks.
Now almost four months after his release, Moffett spends his days in front of the television set in his mother's tidy Pembroke Pines condo. He hasn't shaken the staph infection and has another problem on top of that: Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a potentially deadly skin condition that — according to doctors — is likely related to the medicine he was given in jail.
Moffett lost 50-plus pounds and is just now beginning to gain them back. His hands and feet are tough and leathery like the pads on a dog's paws. He itches constantly. His hair has fallen out in clumps. He has spots on his kidneys, trouble hearing in one ear, and looks 50 years old. Moffett has been back to the hospital seven times since his two-week stay, and has racked up $75,000 in medical bills, none of which he can pay. His mom has also contracted the staph infection.
Moffett says he plans to sue. "The way they treated me was like a dog," he says while sticking his hand down the side of his pants to scratch his upper thigh.
Kippo Pruitt was 55 when he landed at the Metro West Detention Center March 31, charged with selling marijuana near a school.
A Vietnam veteran with an honorable discharge, Pruitt had racked up several charges over the years, from the very minor (possession of a shopping cart) to the more serious (dealing cocaine). Along with his demons, Pruitt struggled with diabetes. He needed insulin to survive. When he walked into the jail, his four daughters hoped this would be his last time behind bars.
Over the next month, Pruitt's health inexplicably declined. One inmate reported seeing him arguing with a nurse over a scheduled insulin dose. He also complained of chest pains. During visiting hours, a family friend saw Pruitt and reported back that he "looked sick," according to his daughter, 19-year-old Ke'Tara.
On May 11, Pruitt collapsed in his cell. He was taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center and shackled to a bed. He was comatose by May 17, when Ke'Tara and her three sisters discovered their father was sick. "Why didn't anyone notify us to say he was in the hospital?" Ke'Tara wonders. "They had my number, because I had called the jail clinic to ask about his health."
Pruitt died May 21. The official reason: "cerebral intraparenchymal hemorrhage." In other words, a stroke. The medical examiner deemed the cause of death natural. Pruitt's children suspect he wasn't given the proper dose of insulin.
"My father was absolutely okay until he got to the jail," says Ke'Tara.
Rodolfo Ramos's case is frighteningly like that of Kippo Pruitt. One day in January — his niece, Yeisleny, doesn't remember exactly when — she got a call from her uncle. He spoke in a quick, excited voice. "Los elefantes quieren comerme," he said. The elephants want to eat me.
"What?" Yeisleny said.
"¡Escuche, escuche!" he exclaimed. Listen, listen! Yeisleny didn't hear anything.
Another inmate got on the phone. Ramos's friend "Camagüey" sounded sad and worried. "Your uncle is hallucinating," he told her. "You should call the clinic."
Ramos was born in Camagüey, Cuba — like his jailhouse buddy — April 16, 1965. In the decades that followed, his father and sister moved to Miami. Ramos got a visa and joined the family in 1995. They all lived in a small house in Hialeah, a few blocks north of the Westland Mall.
But for Ramos, life in many ways was more difficult in Miami than it had been in Cuba. He worked for a spell as a massage therapist and then as a delivery driver. In 1996 he was picked up for drunk driving, but those charges were later dropped. The following year he was convicted of larceny and served a few months in jail.
For a few years it seemed Ramos had gotten his act together. He would take his young niece Yeisleny to the movies and go to happy hour with friends. He began working at a Hialeah warehouse, again as a delivery truck driver. Although a doctor had diagnosed him with diabetes, Ramos had little problem controlling his blood sugar or weight, probably because of the exercise he got at work and his love of salsa dancing. At six feet one inch, Ramos weighed a respectable 190 pounds.