The death of a suicidal patient, who hurled himself from the eighth story of Jackson Memorial Hospital's parking garage while in custody of a private security company, could have been prevented had an employee followed proper transportation procedure, a state investigation concluded.
The Florida Department of Children and Families, in a report released this week, revealed that there was more than enough "evidence to support the allegations of death due to neglect."
The patient, James Bragman, 50, had been a patient at the South Florida State Hospital in Pembroke Pines, run by a subsidiary of Boca Raton-based The GEO Group, one the nation's largest providers of private prison services and mental health care. GEO is a likely bidder for Gov. Rick Scott's plan to privatize certain prisons.
On June 6, three staffers took Bragman to a medical appointment at Jackson Memorial, parking on the eighth story of a parking garage.
After the appointment, the three - Lavonia Smiley, a mental health technician; Ronson Williams, a security officer and Herbert Gordon, a driver - walked Bragman back to the garage. But as they got off the garage's eighth-floor elevator, Bragman bolted and leaped over the side - landing on the ground within a couple feet of bystanders below.
According to the DCF investigation, Smiley should have stayed with Bragman at the first-story hospital entrance while driver Williams went for the van.
"Following this procedure would have prevented the opportunity for [Bragman] to jump from the 8th floor of the parking garage," the report said, noting that Williams and Gordon were following their duties properly.
A suicide attempt is what landed Bragman at South Florida State Hospital. He jumped off a second-floor stairway at another Miami mental health facility in February, severely injuring himself. He was taken to the state hospital.
Bragman, a diagnosed schizophrenic, was under court and state supervision after a Miami-Dade judge declared him mentally unfit to stand trial on a 2006 arson charge.
His brother, Larry Bragman, of Orlando, said hospital personnel knew the man had a history of suicide attempts.
"They should have handcuffed him, or had him shackled at the legs,'' Bragman said Wednesday. "Tthat way he wouldn't have been able to run away like he did."
The suicide came four months after another inmate patient in the custody of GEO escaped, stealing a guard's SUV during a hospital visit in South Miami. Police found the man in Sunny Isles Beach three days later.
Abraham Cohen, a spokesman for GEO Group, said certain employees have been fired or reassigned because of the two incident, although he did not provide names.
"Appropriate policies and procedures were in place at the time," Cohen said, adding GEO and DCF "have implemented additional operational, training, and reporting policies and procedures."
Bragman, who grew up in Miami, had a mental meltdown at age 19 when his father died of a heart attack, relatives said.
He spent next three decades drifting on the streets, in and out of jail, halfway homes and psychiatric hospitals, Larry Bragman said. Thoughts of suicide tormented him.
"He just couldn't kill himself,'' Larry Bragman said. "At one point, he'd moved up to New York and jumped in front of an 18-wheeler and he just went right underneath it. All that happened to him was a broken arm."