FORT LAUDERDALE — The attorney representing the family of a Lauderdale Lakes businessman, who an autopsy determined died as a result of being hog-tied by Broward sheriff’s deputies and county firefighters, is questioning that finding and is now seeking an independent review of the autopsy.
“Without question this case needs to be reviewed,” said Michael Winer, who represents the late Oral Brown’s widow, Alverna, and his son in several lawsuits filed over his 2001 death. Those cases are still making their way through the courts.
“In light of all that’s been discovered [through South Florida Times investigative reporting] there is no doubt in my mind that the autopsy needs to be independently reviewed,” Winer said.
Brown, 37, apparently suffered a seizure while driving and his SUV crashed through a fence and landed upside down inside the parking lot of the Swap Shop flea market on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
When sheriff’s deputies and paramedics arrived, Brown was still trapped inside his overturned vehicle. Emergency crews said he was disoriented and began to flail his hands and wander around after being freed from the wreckage. That’s when he was forcibly restrained, hog-tied and strapped face down on a stretcher and transported to a hospital. During the trip, he received no medical attention from paramedics and was wheeled into the emergency room still hog-tied to the stretcher, covered in his body fluids and showing no signs of life.
Attempts to revive Brown were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead. Seeing his condition, hospital staff called police and a homicide investigation was opened.
An ongoing series of South Florida Times investigative reports has raised questions about the case, including potential conflicts of interest, and has uncovered eyewitnesses who say Brown was beaten and placed in a chokehold but were never called to testify. That information was not included in the homicide report.
Brown suffered bruises and hemorrhaging in his neck muscles and the homicide report indicates those injuries were caused by the cervical collar paramedics placed around his neck at the scene. However, emergency room staff testified that Brown was not wearing a cervical collar and paramedics testified they did not place one on him, raising doubts about the cause of those neck injuries.
An autopsy performed by the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office determined Brown died from positional asphyxia, due to the way he was hog-tied, but that his death was accidental. The homicide investigation, as well as a grand jury that heard the case, agreed with those findings. But several questions still linger. For example, even though the pathologist found “petechial hemorrhaging” or ruptured blood vessels in Brown’s eyes, the autopsy report does not elaborate on the cause of that bleeding. The condition is indicative of possible signs of strangulation, among other things.
Though not mentioned in the homicide report, it could support some eyewitness accounts that Brown was placed in a chokehold. It may also raise further doubt about a section in the homicide report that seems to attribute injuries to Brown’s neck to a cervical collar.
Broward Medical Examiner Craig Mallak has not responded to questions about Winer’s concerns or his plans for a forensic review of the autopsy report.
Officials with the Broward State Attorney’s Office said they were unaware of Winer’s plans but spokesman Ron Ishoy said, “We would have no objection,” to the attorney’s call for a review of the autopsy report.
Winer said he wanted to have Brown’s body exhumed and a re-examination conducted. However, his body was cremated on Oct. 20, 2001, five days following his death.
Judy Melinek, an expert pathologist in San Francisco, believes an exhumation of Brown’s body may have been unnecessary.
“Exhumation is rarely useful, unless the original exam was not well documented at all and the body was very well embalmed,” she said . “The first autopsy and embalming process often creates artifacts which can be misinterpreted as trauma. In my experience, it is frequently a waste of time and money and doesn’t yield useful information, compared to a thorough, competent review of the original autopsy.” Winer said he will hire a forensic pathologist to conduct the review.
*Pictured above is the late Oral Brown.
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