MIAMI (CBSMiami) – “Getting arrested for a misdemeanor with a severe mental illness should not result in a death sentence. And that’s what happened here.”
So says Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman, expressing outrage as he looks into the housing and treatment of inmates with mental illness housed at the Miami Dade Detention Center.
Just recently he and CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen visited the jail including the 9th floor, known by insiders as “The Forgotten Floor.”
It’s where inmates with the most severe mental illnesses are housed. Following that visit and questions Gillen raised about the inmates on the floor, she learned of the recent deaths of two men who had been incarcerated here.
Joaquin Cairo, a homeless man, was wheelchair bound the morning she visited. Documents show that that very day a judge was being told that Cairo reported he had been thrown into his bed by another inmate, following an attempted sexual assault.
Here’s the conversation of what transpired in a sidebar in court between the presiding judge and an employee from the jail diversion program..
“…he says someone propositioned him while in custody and when he declined they threw him against the bed and then against the floor,” according to the representative of the jail diversion program. She went on to tell the judge ” he says he was swelling and in pain and he can not walk.”
Sources tell CBS4 News that it took days for Cairo to get medical attention.
“The neglect was despicable. despicable. He should have been taken to a doctor immediately and there is absolutely no excuse,” Leifman told Gillen today.
Ultimately Cairo ended up transferred to a hospital where following emergency surgery he died. Records indicate he had a fractured pelvis and internal bleeding. Miami-Dade Police are investigating.
Another recent death is that of Juan Matos-Flores, who was considered a suicide risk. He was found unresponsive in his 9th floor cell. When staff ordered 911 be called…they were told the phone on the 9th floor – which houses the most critically mentally ill patients….can’t call out.
Gillen asked Leifman if he was shocked that a 911 call can not be directly made from the 9th floor. A floored Leiman responded, “It’s a floor that is specifically designed for people who are ill. It’s absurd.”
Staff had to contact other staff on another floor, to have them make the emergency call. Miami-Dade Fire rescue arrived and pronounced him dead at the scene. Cause of death is still pending.
“It remains a locked up, embarrassing sin,” that’s how Miami Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman described the jail to Gillen. She says the CBS 4 on- going investigation has prompted her to demand change.
“The bottom line is change is needed. It’s too slow. It’s a shame that it takes you to go in championing the community and our vulnerable to say let me come back and get an update. No, let me come back and re-expose you because not enough has been done,” Haymen told Gillen.
Seven years later, since CBS 4’s initial visit to the Forgotten Floor with a camera, three floors of the jail are now filled with inmates with mental illness, including women.
“Seven years is enough. Seven years is criminal.,” Heyman concluded.
In the end Leifman says, ” The sad reality is that we still treat people with mental illnesses’s as lessor human beings.”