FORT LAUDERDALE – The body of Oral Brown, a Lauderdale Lakes businessman who died after being hog-tied by first responders dispatched to the scene of his single-vehicle rollover accident in 2001, showed signs of possible strangulation.
That possibility, however, is not documented in the Broward Sheriff’s Office homicide report prepared by BSO Det. Glenn Bukata. Yet it is stated in three sentences in the seven-page Broward Medical Examiner’s autopsy report.
Dr. Linda Rush-O’Neil, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Brown, described in highly technical terms the condition known as “petechial hemorrhaging” or ruptured blood vessels in his eyes, but does not elaborate on the cause. But while testifying in a deposition related to the incident four years later, she said it was caused by the position Brown was in.
Experts, however, say petechial hemorrhaging is also one of the first indications of possible strangulation.
“This can be an indicator of strangulation but can be seen with prone (face down) positioning and even in some natural deaths (like heart failure), so many pathologists consider it a ‘non-specific’ finding,” Melinek said.
“The presence of petechial hemorrhages, combined with neck strap muscle hemorrhages in the context of witnesses saying there was neck compression during an assault, is highly suspicious for strangulation, especially if there is no good documentation that a cervical collar was even used. That does not mean that strangulation was the cause of death, as apparently the deceased was still breathing for a significant period of time after he was restrained. It just suggests that neck compression occurred as part of his restraint.”
Brown was hog-tied and then strapped face-down onto a stretcher after crawling out of his wrecked SUV which had come to a stop upside down. He was pronounced dead at a hospital emergency room.
A homicide investigation was opened after emergency room personnel called police to report that Brown was wheeled into the emergency room still hog-tied, covered in his body fluids and without a pulse.
An autopsy concluded Brown died from positional asphyxia, or suffocation, due to being hog-tied, but that it was accidental. Several eyewitnesses to the incident, including Yvonne Mora, a retired nurse, and several members of her family, say they saw first responders beat and place Brown in a chokehold.
Mora and her daughter Yvette Wakefield have told the South Florida Times they provided deputies at the scene with their names and contact information and insisted on giving statements about how Brown was treated. But they said though they were among those who made the initial 911 calls about the accident, BSO investigators never contacted them.
They followed up several days later with phone calls to the sheriff’s office and left their names again but were never contacted and were unaware of any investigations, they have said.
O’Neil’s autopsy report does not offer any explanation for the ruptured blood vessels in Brown’s eyes.
Brown’s family filed a lawsuit over his death and the case is still pending in the courts. During a deposition in that case, O’Neil testified that the petechial hemorrhaging was caused by the position he was placed in and the injuries to his neck were caused by the way Brown was strapped face-down on the stretcher.
Mora also gave a deposition in the lawsuit and testified that she saw a deputy with his knee in Brown’s back and applying a chokehold on him while Brown was on the ground with his hands cuffed behind him.
“Okay, he was – he was trying to get himself out of the position that the police officer had him in, which was an arm around his neck,” Mora said in a deposition given in the lawsuit. When asked how long Brown was kept in the chokehold, she replied, “From the time they handcuffed him until they put him on the stretcher.”
Also, according to the autopsy report, Brown had bruises and hemorrhaging in the strap muscles on both sides of his neck.
In his homicide report, Bukata wrote, “Arrived at the Fire Station #14 and collected one ‘Stifneck’ cervical collar from Firefighter/Paramedic Lt. London, via property receipt. This collar was then turned over to Dr. Linda Rush, via investigator Dave Coleman at approximately 1006 hours. Dr. Rush later informed me that the bruising on the victim’s neck was consistent with the place of the cervical collar.”
But the autopsy report does not include any such opinion and, during her deposition in the civil case, O’Neil’s testimony contradicted what Bukata wrote in his homicide report.
Under questioning from attorney Todd McPharlin, who was then representing the Brown family in the lawsuit, O’Neil was asked about the cause of the neck injuries:
McPharlin: “What is the significance of the hemorrhages of the neck as it relates to your cause of death that you opined?
O’Neil: “That there was force applied to the neck and causing hemorrhaging there.”
McPharlin: “In and of themselves, was the force applied to the neck sufficient to produce death?
O’Neil: “It could be, yes.”
McPharlin: “Based upon the history you received from the investigation, when do you think Mr.
Brown received any type of neck trauma which would have produced these hemorrhages?”
O’Neil: “I believe that the position that he’s in on the stretcher and being cinched down on the stretcher when he weighed 324 pounds and he’s moving his neck from side to side as described in one of the reports or one of the statements, that type of positioning would cause those hemorrhages.”
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