NAACP seeks federal probe of Florida county’s jail system following deaths

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The NAACP is seeking a federal investigation of deaths in Florida’s second-largest county jail system, saying the Broward Sheriff’s Office does not adequately monitor inmates or provide them with proper medical treatment and mental health services.

Marsha Ellison, the civil rights group’s Broward County president, stood with the relatives of some of the 21 inmates they say have died in the jail’s custody since 2019.

Ellison said Sheriff Gregory Tony and his staff are often not transparent about the circumstances surrounding fatalities. She also said the company contracted by the sheriff’s office to provide medical and mental health services to inmates often fails to provide adequate care.

The national NAACP filed a letter this week with the U.S. Justice Department seeking the investigation. It comes about six weeks after a 29-year-old inmate, Janard Geffrard, was allegedly choked and beaten to death by his cellmate.

One death highlighted in the letter is that of Kevin Desir, a 43-year-old with bipolar disorder, who died of strangulation during a 2021 struggle with guards, according to an independent autopsy report. The letter also lists deaths by suicides and drug overdoses. It also mentions the 2019 case of a woman who gave birth alone in her cell and an inmate who cut off his penis with a razor in 2018.

“We don’t want to hear we’ve investigated ourselves and found that we’ve done no wrong. We want to find out what’s really happening,” Ellison said during a news conference at the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. “I don’t honestly believe and don’t trust the process of the internal (sheriff’s office) to investigate themselves.”

Public Defender Gordon Weekes, pointing to the families, said the lack of knowing exactly how their loved ones died “creates additional pain that these family members should not have to endure.”

“Folks are dying when they are supposed to be protected (and) cared for,” Weekes said. “We have to look at how we can do better as a community and as a society and that starts with us having some transparency.”

The Broward Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Thursday saying its jail system meets national accreditation standards and that even with “significant vacancy rates” among guards, it “has consistently maintained high levels of excellence.”

Broward jails average about 3,600 inmates in custody per day with about 44,000 people spending at least one night in jail annually. The system houses inmates who have been sentenced to less than a year behind bars, and defendants who are on trial or awaiting trial. Anyone sentenced to more than a year gets transferred to a state prison.

The Justice Department acknowledged Thursday that it has received the NAACP’s request, but declined to say whether an investigation will be opened. Monitoring by The Associated Press shows that about a dozen state prison and local jail systems are currently under federal investigation nationwide.

Janard Geffrard’s father, Jeff Geffrard, told reporters that the sheriff’s office has not said anything to the family about the Dec. 16 attack. Investigators said in court documents that his son was beaten and choked for more than two minutes by his cellmate. Guards apparently didn’t notice anything was wrong until more than 20 minutes after the attack had ended.

Janard Geffrard was taken to a hospital where he died two weeks later. He had been jailed awaiting trial for robbery and burglary. The sheriff’s office suspended two guards with pay pending the completion of an investigation.

Jeff Geffrard said it was the sheriff office’s responsibility to protect his son.

“I don’t want no other family to go through what I’m going through,” he said through tears.

The sheriff’s office filed an attempted murder charge against the cellmate shortly after the attack. That has not been upgraded. The State Attorney’s Office said Thursday the law enforcement investigation is ongoing.

The father of Corbin Moberg said his 25-year-old son’s death on Jan. 1 of a suspected drug overdose while at the Broward jail “doesn’t make any sense.” Moberg had been in custody for more than two years awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges.

“Corbin was a good kid. Corbin just made a bad choice. I was hoping Corbin would be safe where he was at and that didn’t work out,” Robert Moberg said, his voice breaking. “Some nights I wake up and I can’t go back to sleep. I just lay there thinking about what could have been and how his life could have been in the future. Now, that’s not going to happen because somewhere somebody failed.”

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