Paraplegic Miami Inmate With COVID-19 Denied Release

Anthony Swain (left) in an undated family photo.
Anthony Swain (left) in an undated family photo. Photo courtesy of the Swain family
click to enlarge Anthony Swain (left) in an undated family photo. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SWAIN FAMILY
Anthony Swain (left) in an undated family photo.
Photo courtesy of the Swain family
Anthony Swain, a 43-year-old inmate who has sued over the handling of coronavirus in a Miami-Dade jail, was denied release for the second time on Monday.

After Swain was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, his attorneys filed an emergency motion for his release, explaining that he is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic suffering from a severe spinal condition and a failing respiratory system. He is presently being held at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK) in a one-man cell.

A statement from Swain's lawyers at the advocacy group Civil Rights Corps says he is not receiving proper medical care and is being held in a cell that is not equipped for a person with disabilities.

"The jail has told Anthony to defecate on himself because there is no toilet accessible for his disability while he is in isolation," the lawyers told New Times in an email Monday night. "In addition to being forced to defecate on himself, he did not have access to a shower yesterday, and does not have a means to call for help from his isolation cell since he is confined to a wheelchair."

Reached yesterday, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation (MDCR) declined to comment on Swain's case, citing the pending litigation.

Swain and several other at-risk inmates sued MDCR last month but were denied release by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams. The more recent emergency motion asked Williams to reconsider her decision on Swain's individual case because of the dire nature of his condition.

As of yesterday, 481 inmates in Miami-Dade have tested positive for COVID-19; ten have been hospitalized.
Swain was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and tested positive for COVID-19 at Jackson Memorial Hospital on May 11. He was then released and transferred to TGK.

"Medical staff is readily available to assist Mr. Swain with any medical issue 24 hours a day," MDCR stated in court documents. "He continues to receive his chronic care medical treatment and pain medication regimen."

Swain was paralyzed from the waist down at age 20 from a gunshot wound. He takes multiple medications every day to manage his pain, which ranges from severe migraines to debilitating joint, back, and pelvic convulsions. He has a history of urinary tract infections.

Swain is awaiting trial on charges involving an alleged pill mill operation. Throughout his four years in custody, he has filed over 70 grievances against MDCR and staff for failing to provide proper medical care.

In a declaration Swain provided his lawyers, he said he previously had made five requests to get tested for COVID-19.

"For the past few weeks, I have been asking the nurses in my cell to test me for coronavirus," Swain wrote May 13. "Each of my requests was denied."

Connie Swain says her son suffered a severe pain episode the week before he went to the hospital because an air mattress he was sleeping on popped.

"With his myelomalacia, he was lying on the hard floor, which causes bleeding in his spinal cord," she tells New Times. (She says he was provided with a new mattress after she called the jail demanding one.)

During the episode, Swain was given additional medication. "It allowed him to get six hours of sleep for the first time in months," his mother says.

After Swain woke up, he began experiencing difficulty breathing.

"On Sunday, May 10, I woke up around 9 am in unbearable pain and was unable to breathe," he wrote in the same May 13 declaration. "I told one of the nurses in my cell about my symptoms. She checked my vitals and said, 'Ain't nothing wrong with you.'"

Later that day, Swain was taken to the hospital. But Connie Swain says her son did not receive medication for two days after he was transferred from Jackson to TGK.

"He also didn't get any of his belongings," she says. "So he was freezing inside his cell without proper clothes."

In court filings, MDCR has denied the story put forth by Swain.

"As with his past allegations and declarations," the county's attorneys wrote, "Mr. Swain's allegations in the Motion and his supporting declaration are overwhelmingly false."

MDCR made the case that Williams had already denied Swain's request for release in her earlier decision not to free all of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit.

"His latest supplemental declaration offers no basis upon which the Court should revisit its prior rulings," MDCR argued, although Swain tested positive for COVID-19 after the first ruling.

Swain's bond is set at $645,000, an amount that Civil Rights Corps calls an "unconstitutionally high money bond that his family cannot afford."

"In spite of not getting him out today, we are not giving up on Mr. Swain, or the tens of thousands of vulnerable people who are confined in brutal conditions away from their families across the country during this pandemic," Civil Rights Corps said in a statement.
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Atena Sherry is a freelance civic and investigative reporter based in South Florida. She was born in Hong Kong and lived in Sweden and Washington, D.C., before moving to Miami in 2014.
Contact: Atena Sherry