A Tamarac man suffering from mental illness and awaiting trial at the Broward County Jail on criminal mischief and marijuana possession charges died Wednesday night after a violent altercation a week earlier with jail officers — the most recent event in a litany of such incidents involving Broward detainees.
Kevin Lavira Desir, 43, was arrested by Coral Springs police on Jan. 6 on felony criminal mischief charges after he allegedly smashed the taillights and scratched the side of his neighbor’s 2017 red Dodge Charger with a brick. After Desir was released on bail, he was arrested a week later for marijuana possession, records show.
Last week, Public Defender Gordon Weekes said, Desir was pepper-sprayed and Tasered by jail staff in response to the man’s mental health crisis.
In a letter to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony dated Jan. 25, Weekes said Desir remained “on life support following [the] incident that occurred while in your care.” Desir, he said, “sustained a severe and irreversible brain injury and remains in a chronic vegetative state” as a result of the incident.
Desir died Wednesday night after family members withdrew life support, Weekes said.
In a letter responding to Weekes and provided to the Miami Herald late Thursday, Tony accused the Broward public defender of making “unsubstantiated allegations” and he defended the agency’s treatment of inmates with mental illness and other healthcare needs.
“In every instance where concerns are expressed about the care provided, investigations are conducted,” Tony said. “When deficiencies are identified, changes are made to ensure that the highest levels of care are provided.”
Tony said BSO is investigating the agency’s treatment of Desir, who died at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach after he was admitted on the night of Jan. 17 following an encounter with detention deputies, according to a prepared statement provided by a spokesperson for the sheriff.
Weekes, who was elected to the office last year, asked Tony to release what he believed to be a video of the clash, “so that the community concerns surrounding the treatment and care of mentally ill inmates within your custody are alleviated.”
Tony noted in his letter that BSO cannot release surveillance camera video from the jail because it is confidential and exempt under Florida law. He said releasing video would jeopardize the safety of jail security and the facility’s medical staff.
In his Jan. 25 letter, Weekes said Desir “struggled” with an undisclosed mental illness for more than 20 years, but remained “functional and productive” while supporting his family.
Last week, Weekes wrote, Desir “suffered a mental health crisis” while in custody. Deputies reacting to Desir’s behavior “failed to defuse the situation. Instead the deputies used a significant level of physical force against him while he was in crisis.”
“Within moments of the deputies’ actions,” Weekes wrote, Desir “lost consciousness and became non-responsive.”
Veda Coleman-Wright, BSO communications director, said in an email that detention deputies encountered Desir after he had cut himself using an unknown object while in the infirmary at North Broward Bureau, a 1,200-person facility in Pompano Beach for detainees with mental illnesses and other special needs.
“When deputies removed the inmate from the cell to assess his injuries and render aid, he became extremely violent and bit two deputies, causing injury to one of them,” Coleman-Wright said in an email.
Deputies placed Desir in a restraint chair, and he allegedly kicked staff and resisted efforts to restrain him, she said.
“The inmate continued to move about violently until becoming unresponsive and was removed from the restraint chair,” Coleman-Wright said. “Deputies immediately began CPR and jail medical staff took over resuscitation efforts.”
Coleman-Wright added that jail staff tried to revive Desir using a defibrillator but the machine failed to provide a shock. The county medical examiner will determine the cause of Desir’s death, which is also under investigation by BSO’s Criminal Investigations and Internal Affairs divisions and the Use of Force Review Board, she said. The case file will be forwarded to the Broward State Attorney’s Office once completed.
Desir’s unexplained injuries follow a series of similar incidents involving detainees within BSO’s custody.
Last December, 26-year-old Joseph Williams — who also had a long history of suffering from mental illness — died in BSO custody. Williams had been in jail since August, marking his fourth arrest that year. “His mother called the jail many times to voice her concerns about her son not feeling well during his last days of life,” Weekes wrote.
“She expressed her belief the jail just ignored her repeated calls seeking help, as well as her son’s requests to be seen by a doctor.”
Weekes said his office has not been told how Williams died, and he has asked BSO to release any records that might shed light on what killed him.
On Dec. 22, 2019, a BSO detention deputy punched a woman 13 times and threw her to the floor of her cell. The beating was captured on video, which shows Deputy Wayne Mayberry confronting a detainee named Samantha Steers, who is much smaller and dressed in an orange jumpsuit.
The video shows Mayberry shoving Steers toward her cell while she grabs his green jacket. Mayberry easily gets her into the cell. Once inside, Mayberry holds up his right arm and swings at the woman. Then he unloads with his right and left fists, pummeling her with 13 rapid punches before he flings her to the ground and walks out.
The video ends with Mayberry outside the cell, bending over and grabbing his right eye. The incident was first reported by WSVN Channel 7 in Miami.
Steers lives with mental illness, Weekes said. She was housed at the North Broward Jail, whose staffers are trained to identify and address those experiencing a mental health crisis.
Carey Codd, a BSO spokesman, provided a prepared statement defending Mayberry’s actions and noting that the deputy could still file criminal charges against Steers.
“The inmate repeatedly scratched and hit Deputy Mayberry in the face and throat, spit in his face and gouged something into one of his eyes,” the BSO statement said. “Deputy Mayberry suffered serious injuries and required medical treatment at a hospital.”
BSO reviewed surveillance camera footage of the incident, interviewed witnesses and took photos of Mayberry and Steers, according to the statement.
“Multiple reviews of the incident, including a preliminary review by BSO’s Division of Internal Affairs, identified no misconduct by Deputy Mayberry,” the statement said.
Despite the findings, BSO detention deputies have a track record of neglecting and mistreating inmates with mental illness and other medical needs, Weekes said, citing a series of tragic examples.
On Sept. 5, 2018, an inmate in isolation cut off his penis. On April 10, 2019, a woman was forced to give birth alone in her cell. In June 2019, two inmates with mental illness died while in BSO custody in a single week. On Sept. 4, 2019, a 17-year-old with mental illness died by suicide while in BSO custody. On Dec. 8, 2019, an inmate took his life in the jail. On Sept. 27, 2020, a woman was forced to deliver her own baby in the jail, Weekes said.
Weekes’ letter included yet another recent example of an inmate whose healthcare needs were neglected, and who was mercilessly ridiculed by staff rather than helped.
On Dec. 17, 2020, 10 days after giving birth, a woman still recovering from postpartum bleeding was arrested and jailed. The woman was breastfeeding her newborn. Soon after arriving at the jail, she needed a change of uniform and a way to ensure that her stitched wounds would not become infected, Weekes said.
“She was told, ‘You’re in jail. What do you think this is, the Hilton?’ ” Weekes said.
The woman was forced to remain in a soiled uniform and without attention to her surgical wound for more than 24 hours.
“These stories unfortunately continue a tragic pattern of mentally ill inmates needlessly suffering and dying while being held in the jail,” Weekes wrote in his letter.
This article has been updated to remove a reference to “Tamarac police.” Tamarac is patrolled by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.