FORT LAUDERDALE — Another potential conflict of interest has surfaced in the investigation of a Lauderdale Lakes man who died after being “hog-tied” on a stretcher by Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) deputies and county paramedics.
Oral Brown, 37, died after being beaten, forcibly restrained and then bound hand and feet, face down, following a single car traffic accident on Oct. 15, 2001. The medical examiner, BSO and a grand jury determined his death to be accidental.
Now a South Florida Times investigation has found the pathologist who performed the autopsy is married to a sergeant who oversaw the BSO homicide investigation. Her married name appears on her report but the homicide report gives her maiden name.
Det. Glenn Bukata was lead investigator in the BSO homicide investigation which was supervised by Sgt. Robert O’Neil, now a lieutenant.
Their 19-page investigative summary, which was signed by Bukata and has Sgt. O’Neil’s signature stamped on it, cites the autopsy report several times, but instead uses pathologist Linda O’Neil’s maiden name of Linda Rush.
Her relationship to Robert O’Neil is not mentioned in any of the reports related to Brown’s death.
Linda O’Neil’s autopsy was the first to find that Brown’s death was “accidental.” Nearly a year later, the BSO investigation and the grand jury relied, in part, on her report to reach the same conclusion.
Brown suffered a seizure while driving and crashed through a fence at the Swap Shop flea market on Sunrise Boulevard. His SUV landed upside down and he had to be cut from the wreckage. Emergency crews that responded to the scene said Brown was disoriented, resisted treatment and began flailing his hands once he was freed.
He was subdued and then “hog-tied” with his hands cuffed behind his back and his ankles bound together. His legs were then bent behind him and a belt was used to tie his ankles to his handcuffed wrists. He was then strapped face down to a gurney and transported to Broward
General Medical Center. He received no medical attention on the way. When he arrived at the emergency room, hospital personnel ordered him to be untied and unsuccessfully attempted to revive him.
The Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that the cause of death was “positional asphyxia,” meaning Brown had been unable to breathe because of the manner in which he was tied up.
BSO conducted a homicide investigation, which, in part, relied on the conclusions reached by the Medical Examiner’s Office. The Broward State Attorney’s Office empanelled a grand jury, which reached the same conclusion.
Tony Loe, the assistant state attorney who presented the case to the Grand Jury, said he was aware that the O’Neils are married but said Robert O’Neil “never testified during any of the grand jury proceedings regarding the investigation into the death of Oral Brown.”
Robert O’Neil and Bukata de-clined to be interviewed or offer explanations as to why Linda O’Neil’s maiden name was used in their report.
Linda O’Neil now works for the state’s District 19 Medical Examiner’s Office in Ft. Pierce, which covers Indian Riv-er, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.
Asked if she ever disclosed that she is married to the homicide investigator in the Brown case, she replied, “I put everything in my report. It’s right there and it’s all public record.”
When asked if she was aware that the BSO report referred to her as “Dr. Rush,” she ended the interview.
“I really don’t have any further comment,” she said.
But Prof. Robert “Bob” Jarvis, an author and legal scholar at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center says an explanation is in order.
“We really don’t know what took place or why it was done. It’s difficult to say if any conflicts existed without an investigation,”
Jarvis said. “It hard to say, but it is unusual and I think this case requires a re-examination.”
The issue involving the homicide report is the latest in a string of peculiar events in Brown’s death and the aftermath.
They include the fact that the judge who dismissed a civil rights lawsuit that was filed by Brown’s family never revealed that she also presided over the grand jury that investigated his death.
Also, an internal memo by the Broward County Fire Rescue Division found nine specific “failures” by paramedics that may have contributed to Brown’s death, but the memo was never presented to prosecutors or the grand jury.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein calls it “strange.”
“There could be some explanation but you would think it would have been made known that the doctor performing the autopsy and a detective involved in the homicide investigation were married,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein also said the case should be reopened but added that any review should be conducted outside of the grand jury process, whose proceedings are done in secret.
“At the very least, there needs to be some type of a review of this entire case,” he said.
Loe, the assistant state attorney, said re-opening the case is a possibility but he does not feel there is sufficient reason to do so.
“I think that if more information is available or presented that needs to be examined, our office is more than happy to take a look,” Loe said. “But, at this time, I don’t think we’re there at this time."
**Pictured above from left to right is Lt. Robert O'Neil, his wife, pathologist Dr. Linda O'Neil, and Det. Glenn Bukata.
Other Articles About The Death of Oral Brown Below: