FORT LAUDERDALE — A lawsuit over the death of a Lauderhill motorist more than 10 years ago at the hands of Broward Sheriff’s deputies and paramedics remains active in the courts and the actions of a judge in the case are being called into question.
Oral Brown, a 37-year-old businessman, was driving west on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 15, 2001, when he suffered a seizure. His SUV crashed through a fence at the Swap Shop flea market in the 3400 block of West Sunrise Boulevard and landed upside down, trapping him inside.
Emergency crews had to cut Brown out of the wreckage and, when he got out, he was in a daze and began to wander around. He did not respond to orders to sit on a stretcher. Brown, who was 6-foot-3 and weighed 324 pounds, resisted attempts to subdue him, according to a Grand Jury Report into Brown’s death.
The report said he was “disoriented” and tried to choke one paramedic and he lifted two others into the air and then took off running. In the process of being subdued, he was severely beaten. He was “hog-tied” where his hands were cuffed behind his back, his ankles were cuffed together and his legs were bent behind him with his ankles strapped to his belt. He was then strapped to a stretcher face-down and transported to Broward General Medical Center.
According to the report, “Rescue personnel were concerned that Mr. Brown presented a danger to himself and others.”
The Grand Jury ruled Brown’s death was caused by a number of factors, including “positional asphyxia,” meaning he was unable to breathe due to the manner in which he was restrained and his being tied down so tightly until his lungs were unable to expand.
The report said Brown had “a very enlarged heart” and was also “an obese male who had a history of a seizure disorder.”
The Grand Jury, while describing Brown’s death as “extremely unfortunate,” concluded there was no probable cause to hold anyone “criminally responsible.”
The report added that Broward Fire-Rescue personnel “had not received any specific training pertaining to the dangers of positional asphyxia.” It said since Brown’s death Fire/Rescue has banned the practice of “hog-tying” patients.
Brown’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit on June 10, 2003, naming as defendants Broward County, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and 13 individual deputies and paramedics, as well as then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne and the Swap Shop, some of whose employees helped to restrain him.
According to the lawsuit, Brown’s pulse and breathing were not monitored and he did not receive any care from paramedics during the 10-minute trip to the emergency room. Upon arrival, it was emergency room personnel who attempted to revive him, without success. He was pronounced dead and the emergency room doctors, seeing his condition, called police.
Broward Circuit Court Judge Patti Englander Henning dismissed the lawsuit but her ruling was overturned on appeal.
But it was Henning who had presided over the Grand Jury investigation into Brown’s death, a South Florida Times investigation has found. That gave her an unusual dual role in the case.
Henning also sealed the case files related to the Grand Jury hearing.
More than a year later, prosecutors with the Broward State Attorney’s Office filed a motion seeking to have the files unsealed.
“The Court having received the State’s motion informing the Court that the prior sealing of the Grand Jury’s Report was done in error, and being otherwise fully advised of the circumstances, it is hereby ordered that the Grand Jury Report regarding the investigation into the death of Mr. Oral Brown dated September 11, 2003, shall be unsealed and become public record forthwith,” Henning wrote in her 2004 order.
Henning, who has since recused herself from the case due to an unrelated conflict, did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
The case was transferred to another Broward Circuit Court Judge, John Bowman, who also dismissed the lawsuit.
“Public officials are immune in their individual capacities from [law] suits for damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person should have known,” Bowman ruled.
That ruling is on appeal before the Fourth District Court of Appeal and a decision is expected any time now.
Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, said Henning’s role in the case left him “dumbfounded.”
“I’m not sure what to say. I’ve never heard of anything like it. I can’t imagine why she would do it, because it’s highly unusual,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis said he recalled the incident involving Brown’s death and he thinks an investigation is warranted into Henning’s action to find out exactly what happened.
“I will say she should not be talking to the media, that’s for sure, but maybe she should have called in the attorneys to make her involvement known and to see if there were any objections,” Jarvis said. “In all my years I have never heard of such a thing.”
Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Winer, who started out as co-counsel for the Brown family and became sole counsel in 2006, said he was unaware of the Grand Jury Report. He declined to comment on its conclusions related to criminal wrongdoing or on Henning’s involvement in the case.
But he added, “I think there was deliberate negligence. That’s why the lawsuit was filed — intentional negligence, where they had a conscious disregard for Mr. Brown's health and safety.”
**Pictured above is the late Oral Brown
Other Articles About The Death of Oral Brown Below: