Manslaughter Charges Dropped Against Nursing Home Employees

October 4, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

The manslaughter charges have been dropped against three of the four staff members of a nursing home that had 12 patients die after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. The employees were accused of neglecting the needs of the elderly patients after their air conditioning cut out.

We will cover the details of the case and information on aggravated manslaughter in Florida.

What was the Case?

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017, the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills did not evacuate any of its residents. Before the storm hit on September 10th, 2017, owner Jorge Carballo prepared for the upcoming storm by purchasing extra food, water, and enough fuel for seven days.

After the storm hit, the house’s air conditioner was knocked out. Carballo contacted Florida Power & Light and the state’s helpline for the storm. Help came from neither. Two days later, temperatures began to rise and cause problems for the house.

Portable air conditioners were used to try and keep the elderly patients cool, but they were not properly installed. According to the report, the managers used an online chatroom to speak to each other, where the director of housekeeping wrote, “the patient don’t look good.” Carballo never responded, but ordered large fans to be installed.

On September 12th, the Hollywood paramedics were called to the center for the first of several visits. A 93-year-old man began having breathing problems in the early afternoon. When a paramedic questioned about the high temperatures, the staff said they were getting their air conditioning fixed. Once he was in the hospital, the man’s temperature was up to 106 degrees. Five days later he died.

Carballo claimed that the temperatures were at an okay level when the man was taken to the hospital, but the report found it “not credible.” On September 13th around 3 am, another woman from the building went into cardiac arrest, whose temperature was “ungodly hot.”

Reports indicated that the woman’s temperature was 107, along with another patient from the home. The lead nurse had been in another room, performing CPR on a dead patient. Paramedics informed investigators that the man had rigor mortis, which means he was dead for hours. A security video showed evidence that no one had checked on the man’s room for seven hours.

The paramedics claimed that the head nurse tried to stop him from checking on other patients in the building. The nurses kept saying everything was okay, but one of the paramedics, Lt. Amy Parrinello responded, “you told me that before and now we have multiple deceased patients so with all due respect, I don’t trust your judgment.”

There was another death around 6 am when fire captain Andrew Holtfreter arrived. The report indicated the patient’s temperature was so high that it could not be measured. For reference, the department’s thermometers have a max temperature of 108 degrees (42.2 Celsius).

The hospital staff became alarmed at the number of patients coming in from the center, so some of the staff members walked across to see for themselves. One of the hospital nurses claimed the home felt like, “the blast of heat” inside a car that’s been sat out in the sun all day.

Eventually, the fire department had to evacuate the home. Shortly after the Hollywood homicide detective arrived at the scene. In total, 12 of the nursing home patients died. The victims ranged in age from 57 to 99, and they had body temperatures of up to 108 degrees.

Initially, the entire staff was criticized for not just taking the patients across the street to the hospital which had air conditioning sooner. Several employees were charged with manslaughter—Althia Meggie, Sergo Colin, Tamika Miller, and owner Jorge Carballo.

The most recent update in the case shows that three of the four defendants had the manslaughter charges dropped. Meggie, Colin, and Miller all had the charges dropped, meaning that Carballo is still facing charges.

Carballo’s attorney sent a letter to Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor claiming, “I’ve never seen a more malicious, misguided prosecution in my life.” He went on to say that there’s no reason to believe that the prosecution can obtain a conviction of his client.

Pryor responded to the letter by saying, “I am aware of the challenge ahead; however, we do believe we have a good faith basis to proceed against your client.”

Carballo’s scheduled to begin his trial next month. Prosecutors say that Meggie, Colin, and Miller would all testify against him.  

Aggravated Manslaughter in Florida

A manslaughter charge is appropriate in a criminal prosecution when the death of the victim was caused due to the negligent actions of the accused individual. In civil and criminal cases, negligence is found when the person has breached their duty of care against another. Florida law imposes on everyone a duty to act reasonably towards one another. Whenever there is a violation of that duty, without the conscious intent to inflict harm on another, the State can find that individual to have been negligent.

Florida Statute Section 782.07(2) defines aggravated manslaughter as the killing of any elderly person or disabled adult by culpable negligence. Culpable negligence can occur from:

  • a caregiver’s failure or omission to provide the elderly or disabled adult with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain their physical and mental health. This can include but is not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the people under their care. Or,
  • A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect the elderly or disabled adult from abuse, neglect, or exploitation from another person. (emphasis added).

The statute further provides that neglect to an elderly or disabled adult can be based on repeated conduct, as well as a single incident or omission that results, or could reasonably be expected to result, in serious physical or psychological injury, or a substantial risk of death to the elderly or disabled adult.

A person who is found to have willfully, or by culpable negligence, neglected an elderly person or disabled adult that then caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement but not death, commits a second-degree felony. The penalty for a second-degree felony includes up to a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison.

On the other hand, when the neglect leads to the death of the elderly or disabled adult this charge is upgraded to Aggravated manslaughter. Aggravated manslaughter is considered a first-degree felony and the penalty for a first-degree felony includes up to a $10,000 fine and 30 years in prison.

If the person is found to not have caused the elderly person or disabled adult great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement by their neglect, then they only commit a third-degree felony. The penalty for a third-degree felony includes up to a $5,000 fine and 5 years in prison.

To find out more about aggravated manslaughter, read our page here.

Defenses to Murder, Homicide, and Manslaughter

Florida Statutes Section 782.03 provides that under the following three circumstances a defendant can plea the defense of excusable homicide:

  • When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune while doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent.
  • When the killing occurs by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation by the deceased.
  • When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from sudden combat, without using any weapon that could be considered dangerous and as long as the killing is done in a manner that could not be considered cruel or unusual.

In a Negligence criminal action, if the accused can show that they acted in a lawful manner by doing what a similar reasonable person would have done in their situation, the excusable homicide defense can eliminate or mitigate the criminal charges against the defendant.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Florida 

Finding an experienced defense attorney should always be your first step after getting accused of a crime. It can be scary to navigate the legal world on your own. An experienced Tallahassee Criminal Defense lawyer can help by building a strong defense for your case. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients across Florida for various charges. Call us for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website today.

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