By ELGIN JONES EJones@SFLTimes.com
FORT LAUDERDALE — A witness who was first on the scene of an accident where a motorist died after being beaten and hog-tied by sheriff’s deputies and county paramedics was never called to testify before the grand jury that investigated the case.
The incident took place on Oct. 15, 2001, but a lawsuit filed by the victim’s family members remains in civil court.
The witness, James Normile, is an ophthalmologist whose practice is located at the Swap Shop flea market on West Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.
Normile arrived on the scene after Oral Brown, a 37-year-old naturalized citizen from Jamaica, suffered a seizure and lost control of his SUV. The vehicle crashed through a fence at the Swap Shop, hit a tree and landed upside down, leaving him suspended by his seatbelt.
Normile, who witnessed the accident, said he broke out a window and crawled inside the SUV and began assisting Brown.
During an interview this week, he said he was unaware Brown had been hog-tied and his death was the subject of a criminal investigation and grand jury hearing.
“I just wanted to make sure the guy was okay. He was not aggressive toward me but he was gurgling and foaming at the mouth,” Normile said. “His head was trembling and he appeared to be having a seizure or some kind of fit.”
Normile said he made sure Brown’s airway was clear and after paramedics arrived, he told them what he saw and showed them how to get inside the vehicle. He then left so they could “perform their jobs.”
Paramedics, who cut Brown out of the wreckage, said he was disoriented and became combative and had to be forcibly subdued. He was hog-tied and strapped face down on a stretcher. While being transported to the hospital, his condition was not monitored and he received no medical attention. He arrived at the emergency room still hog-tied, bloodied and covered in his own fluids. Attempts by hospital staff to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead. Seeing his condition, emergency room personnel called police, who opened a homicide investigation.
No Grand Jury Testimony
Records from the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) homicide case file show Normile gave a sworn, taped statement to detectives the day after the incident.
“He was breathing, he had a pulse, he didn’t have any apparent life threatening injuries that were visible,” Normile told Broward Sheriff’s Office investigators, according to a six-page transcript of his statement.
According to an autopsy report, Brown had cuts and multiple bruises. Normile’s account of his condition could call into question the statements given by deputies and fire rescue personnel about his injuries.
Some witnesses at the scene alleged Brown was severely beaten while being subdued. However, emergency personnel said all they did was “take him to the ground” and restrain him.
“I had no idea about any of this,” Normile told the South Florida Times this week. “They (Broward Sheriff’s Office detectives) came here and told me he died at the hospital and I assumed it was due to the accident.”
Asked why he wasn’t called before the grand jury, he replied, “Maybe they didn’t think I had any pertinent information.”
Citing the confidential nature of grand jury proceedings, the Broward State Attorney’s Office declined comment.
Brown’s official cause of death was listed as positional asphyxia. His hands were cuffed behind his back, with his ankles strapped together and his legs bent behind him and tied to his wrists, as he laid face down. The practice is called “hog-tying” and it has since been banned by most law enforcement agencies and fire departments.
Positional Asphixia Concerns
The South Florida Times has also learned that at least four Broward Sheriff’s deputies who had certified training on positional asphyxia, said in sworn statements that paramedics at the scene refused to roll Brown over onto his side when asked to do so.
“I personally asked them, ‘Do you want us to flip him over,’ and, uh, they advised, ‘No, need to get him loaded and get him down and figure out what’s wrong,’ ” Deputy Kenneth Autenrieb said during his statement to homicide investigators.
Deputies Willie Dowe, Todd Chase and Leonard Smith heard Autenrieb ask paramedics the question after they helped subdue and hog-tie Brown. The fire rescue division also had protocols in place about restraining patients but they were not followed.
The medical examiner ruled Brown’s death an accident. The grand jury called it “extremely unfortunate” but declined to bring criminal charges.
The new details about Brown’s death are contained in documents obtained by the South Florida Times. Among other things, it was discovered that the Broward Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs division conducted a separate investigation into Brown’s death.
BSO director of media relations Jim Leljedal said the investigation found no wrongdoing by deputies. He said the case files were destroyed due to the passage of time.
Michael Winer, the attorney representing Brown’s family in their lawsuit, said he was unaware of the Internal Affairs investigation until being contacted by a South Florida Times reporter.
“I never heard of any Internal Affairs investigation and I certainly don’t have the files,” Winer said.
*Pictured above is the late Oral Brown
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