117 Dead

Since 2000, dozens have died in county jails. Poor medical care has contributed to the problem.

Then, in early 2006, Ramos got mixed up in something heavier. A man named Wilfredo Velunza said Ramos and two other men had kidnapped him, beaten him with a hammer, and stolen $12,000 in cash. The victim and the three alleged kidnappers had varying accounts of the February 2 incident. One said it was a drug deal gone bad, another claimed Ramos and his two co-conspirators were part of a "drug rip-off ring." And it got weirder. During a beating, the alleged kidnappers allowed Velunza to use the phone — and instead of contacting family or police, the victim phoned his lawyer.

Regardless, these weren't the misdemeanor charges of years past. If convicted, Ramos faced life in prison. He was taken into custody February 20, and after three months at TGK was transferred to Metro West. A judge denied Ramos bond owing to the severity of the charges, and he settled into life behind bars. Every Saturday his elderly father visited; at least every other day he'd call his niece.

Soon the family became concerned. Ramos began to use a cane. He also complained he needed special shoes and socks for diabetics but the jail staff had refused to provide them. And he said the medical staff didn't always provide insulin when it was needed. He was also diagnosed by jail doctors with sarcoidosis, a nonlethal chronic disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in various organs.

"Can you please call over here and tell them that I need my medicine?" he would ask Yeisleny. She'd phone, and he would usually receive the insulin. He also took some other pills, but she wasn't sure of the type.

Those troubling calls continued through January and February this year. Camagüey called one day to say Ramos's adult diaper was full.

Then Ramos was given a wheelchair, Yeisleny discovered, because he couldn't walk or move his extremities. He hallucinated and frequently talked of flying pigs.

A report written by a jail guard summed up the situation: "Anywhere between 2-5 times a day, select inmates have to wash and dry [Ramos's] linen, his uniform, and give him a shower. Inmate Ramos takes approximately 20 pills on the 7 to 3 shift alone, which makes him very weak. To make matters worse, inmate Ramos is becoming very defiant and argumentative. Other inmates in the unit make fun of the inmates that take care of him."

The officer, whose name is not on the report, continued, "I have made several attempts to medical staff to try and resolve this situation, but to no avail. Inmate Ramos ... needs to be in a medical housing unit. This situation needs to be addressed immediately in order to prevent a tragic unforeseen incident."

But Ramos wasn't transferred to a hospital. In early March he was placed in a cell in the solitary confinement wing. Camagüey called Yeisleny. "Your uncle is really bad," he told her. "They just moved him to a one-man cell. He's going to die in there."

On Saturday, March 25, Ramos's father traveled to the jail but was told his son "didn't feel like visiting." That night at 11:38, according to jail records, Ramos was found in his cell, unresponsive. He was covered in his own feces and had open sores all over his body. Paramedics showed up nearly 40 minutes later. No one from the jail staff called the family.

The next day Ramos missed a scheduled court appearance. It took several calls for Yeisleny to discover he had been taken to the hospital in Kendall. He was in a coma. Exacerbating the situation: The family had to get an emergency court order to visit Ramos in the hospital. "We never thought this kind of thing would happen in the United States," Yeisleny says, her eyes tearing up.

Ramos died April 14, 2007. Two weeks later Yeisleny and her lawyers held a press conference to show the world the horrific photos of her uncle on his deathbed. The tale of the ant-bitten, diabetic inmate was picked up by the Associated Press; the story also ran in the Washington Post.

The county's corrections department issued a tepid response: "'While incarcerated, Mr. Ramos was regularly seen by doctors and medical staff, and hospitalized as needed. While Mr. Ramos's medical history is quite extensive and complex, there is no indication of a lack of medical care or attention in his case. However, as with any death at our corrections facilities, Miami-Dade County is investigating this matter.''

The story hit one 33-year-old Hialeah man, Chris Jimenez, hard. A diabetic like Ramos, he had been locked up for two weeks in 2005 at Metro West on a violation of probation charge. The guards, he recalls, made it difficult for him to get insulin and food. Nurses sometimes gave him an incorrect dose or none at all. Not long after his release, the former army officer's blood sugar level spun out of control. Then he contacted county leaders, including Mayor Carlos Alvarez, to complain about inadequate medical care at the jail.

Then came Ramos. "This death could have been avoided," Jimenez says. "I was given promises that things were going to be fixed, procedures changed. Nothing was taken care of. The people at the jail are not doing their job."


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