Family sues after inmate
on suicide watch dies
claims medication used to restrain man caused his death
OCALA - The estate of Herman B. Tucker, a
mentally ill 24-year-old Inverness man who died in jail custody
in September, 2002, filed suit Friday against Marion County
Sheriff Ed Dean, jail officials, an employee of The Centers, and
Prison Health Services employees, asking the court to declare
the jail's policies toward Baker Act patients illegal.
At the time of his death, Tucker was on a suicide watch at the
Marion County Jail.
According to the suit, Tucker had been taken by deputies under
Florida's Baker Act to the Marion-Citrus Mental Heath facility
on Aug. 10, 2002, at the request of his mother, who feared he
was a danger to himself.
Under the Baker Act, mentally ill people may be involuntarily
evaluated or hospitalized.
The suit alleges that Kevin Dahmen, then the director of The
Centers' crisis unit, forcibly administered drugs to restrain
Tucker without determining the appropriateness of the
medications, and had Tucker arrested.
Karen Gievers, lead attorney for the family, said in a telephone
conversation Friday that Dahmen alleged that Tucker had bitten
him, but police reports indicate there were no bite marks or
bruises. Gievers said that no assessment of Tucker's condition
The suit further alleges that when he arrived at the jail,
Tucker, who had no signs of injury when he left the mental
health facility, was mentally incoherent and suffered injuries
as a result of drug overdose and force used during the arrest.
While being booked for allegedly assaulting Dahmen, it was
feared that Tucker suffered a concussion and he was transported
briefly to the hospital for an assessment.
According to court papers, Tucker received no mental health
services while in custody at the jail from Aug. 10-Sept. 15,
2002. Instead he was given drugs by employees of Prison Health
Services, to subdue him. PHS is under contract with the jail to
provide inmate health care. Anxiety and aggressiveness are among
the side effects of the drugs given to Tucker.
On seven occasions Tucker allegedly was injected with "agitation
cocktails" including combinations of Ativan, Haldol and
In addition to the drugs, the suit alleges that Tucker was
sprayed with pepper foam on six occasions, shot in the chest
with 4-8 pepper balls from a pepper ball rifle, was tasered and
subjected to "excessive restraints, ridicule and disparagement
on virtually a daily basis."
The suit further alleges that Tucker was not told that he could
bond out of jail.
Tucker was found dying in his cell after allegedly saying he
"couldn't take it any more" and was going to kill himself.
The suit alleges that it is jail policy that people with mental
illnesses taken to the jail from The Centers are not to be
considered for involuntary commitment and treatment in a mental
health facility. And the policy, practice and custom is not to
treat to cure the detainee but instead to control his or her
behavior through "restraints, force, ridicule, taunting, pepper
spray and psychiatric drugs."
It is those policies that the court is being asked to declare
"(We're) asking the judge to declare the policy and process
unconstitutional so they won't keep doing it, as far as keeping
mentally ill people locked up in jail rather than putting them
into mental health facilities, where they belong," Gievers said.
"He was arrested without being treated, as he should have been."
Sheriff Ed Dean, who has responsibility for the jail's
operations, said Friday afternoon that he had not seen the suit.
"We don't operate the Sheriff's Office that way," Dean said when
questioned about the alleged abuses. "People make wild
accusations in lawsuits."
Dean said he is chairman of the Florida Model Jail Standards
Committee, which sets the statutory standards that jails must
follow. He said the jail is accredited by the Florida
Correctional Association and American Corrections Association.
"The whole issue of mental health and the state of Florida - we
do the very best we possibly can with the situation we have,"
Dean said. He said there are inadequate mental health facilities
throughout the state.
"Many times people do get incarcerated with mental health
issues," Dean said. "But we deal with them with licensed
psychiatrists in the jail, and working with The Centers as well.
I can assure you this is a professionally run organization. We
will have to let the courts sort this one out."
Pat Dickenson, PHS charge nurse, said she could not comment on
the case and referred all questions to administrative officers,
who were not available on Friday night.
Russell Rasco, executive director of The Centers, could not be
reached for comment Friday night.
Besides the request to find the jail policies unconstitutional,
the estate is asking the court for compensatory damages for
funeral and burial expenses and for pain and suffering for
Tucker's parents for the death of their son, and attorneys' fees
Susan Latham Carr may be reached at
or (352) 867-4156.