The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office concluded no criminal wrongdoing surrounded the death of former inmate Anthony Fennick in February 2019 shortly after he was rushed to AdventHealth Palm Coast, seizing and unresponsive, and after complaining of high fever and developing an allergic rash for several days before that.
Fennick had a heart attack while medical staff at the hospital performed a spinal tap in the early hours of Feb 5, was without a heartbeat for 17 to 18 minutes, and when he regained a beat, was brain dead. The medical examiner attributed his cause of death to a blood clot in the brain and a stroke.
Fennick had been suffering from dehydration and had had an allergic reaction in the days leading up to his collapse, signs not recognized or treated by the contracted medical provider at the jail, Armor Correctional Health Services, the sheriff’s investigation and an independent review by a physician concluded.
“In conclusion, the reviews by medical experts believe the evidence suggests the former medical provider failed to recognize that Mr. Fennick was having a reaction to medicine they had prescribed to him and the seriousness of his illness,” a sheriff’s office statement released today read.
Erika Williams, Fennick’s mother–who had been in daily contact with her son for several times a day until he went silent in the last 36 hours of his conscious life–was in tears this afternoon when contacted about the report.
“How can you not? How can nobody be criminally responsible for that, to let my baby die?” she said through sobs. “They let my baby die. I mean, how cannot somebody be held liable for this? I don’t understand it. If I let somebody die under my care I’m going to get arrested for something, they’re going to charge me for something, and somebody let’s a pet die or a dog di they’re going to get charged for whatever the case is.”
Williams said a civil lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and Armor Correctional is still in play.
The sheriff’s office issued large parts of the investigative reports, though significant parts were also not disclosed, either because of patient privacy laws or under other exemptions to Florida’s open records law. Among essential documents that were not disclosed were the majority of the medical records generated at AdventHealth Palm Coast and the report generated by paramedics at the time when Fennick was taken out of the jail and to the hospital–a crucial part of the timeline and the medical history.
The sheriff’s office asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review its findings. It did not conduct its own investigation. “Based on your findings.” John Burke, a special agent with FDLE, told Sheriff Rick Staly, “FDLE concurs with your findings.” The investigation was turned over to the State Attorney’s Office for review.
“With the conclusion of the criminal investigations, the FCSO will now initiate a professional standards internal investigation which focuses on any potential administrative or policy issue involving any FCSO employee,” the sheriff’s office said in its release. “The findings of the internal investigation will be made public as soon as it is completed. Any policy issues found during the investigation will be promptly addressed by the Sheriff and his staff.”
Staly fired Armor Correctional two weeks after Fennick’s death, hiring a different private provider that started work at the jail that May. He installed a new jail director earlier this year.
“We have been open and transparent throughout this process and we will continue to be,” Staly said. “We grieve with the Fennick family who has experienced a terrible tragedy.”
He had last called his mother, Erika Williams, the evening of on Feb. 3, unwell. He’d complained of not getting medicine he was asking for. He was in the habit of calling Williams four, sometimes five times a day. She did not hear from him after that call, then faced a nightmarish labyrinth of bureaucracy as she tried to reach her son or get news of his health, at one point being told by a contracted nurse there that the nurse could not confirm or deny that Fennick was at the jail.
The sheriff’s office paid Orlando physician Kerry Schwartz to review Fennick’s case file, who concurred with the medical findings. He could not rule out that the spinal tap contributed to Fennick’s death as it was performed when Fennick’s blood pressure was “very elevated.” But he said that Fennick’s death at that point “was likely not preventable.” As for care, or lack of care, leading up to his death: He said that “in a more formal setting,” Fennick’s dehydration “would have been recognized” and treated with fluids. When Fennick began seizing, the nurse at the jail did not have the necessary equipment to administer an IV.
The Sheriff’s Office contracted with Armor Correctional Health Services in January 2018. Fennick had been in drug court starting on June 8, 2018, but was booted out of drug court when he tested positive for cocaine and arrested on a probation violation on Dec. 28, 2018 and was sentenced to 170 days. He was transferred to the jail’s E Block.
On Dec. 30 he was prescribed Mirtazapine, an antidepressant he started taking daily. On Jan. 3 he was prescribed Buspirone, an anti-anxiety medicine. (He would take his evening dose b ut not his morning dose, frequently declining to come down for it.) He was also evaluated for “asthma and seizures.” On Jan. 30, nurse Jennifer Pellegrino noted what she described as “Two dime sized pus filled pimples on the back of [Fennick’s] neck.” He was prescribed Bactrim, an antibiotic, for seven days and ibuprofen.
He started complaining of health issues to his girlfriend and his mother by phone at the end of January, phone records show.
On Feb. 3, he complained of high fever and “became irate and cursing at me when I refused to give inmate 800mg ibuprofen instead of his ordered 400 mg of ibuprofen,” nurse Kelsey Cochran reported. He continued to complain of high fever to corrections officers,
On Feb. 4, nurse Tracey Columbus reported that Fennick sought care at 9:15 p.m. “but did not take his meds. Spoke to deputy but did not speak to this nurse. Other inmates states [sic] he has a rash. Instructed to place sick call. After sick call, I called to the deputies to bring [Fennick] to medical. [Fennick] was not able to ambulate. [Fennick] came to medical via wheelchair.” Her notes described him as “nonverbal,” “nonresponsive,” as having a rash on his “trunk and arms,” that he had vomited on himself and a temperature of 100.1. His blood pressure was 140 over 60.
She also noted, according to the investigative report, that “while prepping the patient for transfer to the ER be began to seize.” He was given Ativan, the anti-anxiety medicine, “with little effect.”
Meanwhile Fennick’s mother called a dozen times to get information on her son’s care and was rebuffed by Cochran, who said Fennick had not signed a release allowing her to speak of his care. Cochran reported speaking to Fennick that morning, when he said he was sorry about yelling at her the day before.
Fennick was taken to AdventHealth Palm Coast in the early hours of Feb. 5. “ On arrival to the ED the patient had bizarre uncoordinated motor movements, some decreased responsiveness,” Timothy O’Shaughnessy, a physician, noted. His heart was beating at more than 100 beats per minute and he was seizing and had respiratory arrest. He had cardiac arrest (a heart attack) after a lumbar puncture to test for meningitis and “coded”–that is, was without cardiac rhythms–for 17 to 18 minutes.
O’Shaughnessy’s report went on to note that the physician had “a long discussion with the patient’s family” and explained that Fennick was “likely brain dead at this point.” He described Fennick as “critically ill with a poor prognosis of recovery,” at acute “risk of decompensation requiring complex decision‐making.”
Life support was removed on Feb. 9. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as a blood clot in the brain–that is, a stroke–and brain damage.
“The stroke was caused by chronic dehydration which was evidenced by Anthony’s recent kidney stones,” the investigative report notes alongside the more strictly medical causes, in laymen’s terms relayed by the medical examiner. “Contributing to the dehydration was an allergic reaction to Bactrim, which was the brand name of the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim, which he was prescribed by the Armor Health Provider while in‐custody at the Flagler County Inmate Facility.”
The rash had been an alert to an allergic reaction. “The rash noted by Armor medical personnel, inmates and staff of the jail, is a common side‐effect of Bactrim and contributed to Anthony’s dehydration,” the report notes.
The morning of Feb. 5, by which time Fennick had lost all brain functions, “FDLE agents explained they would not be continuing to investigate this case. The explanation was there were no obvious signs of mistreatment or abuse ie: bruises, contusions, or scratches. Medical staff also ruled out any internal injuries.
Williams had not digested the investigative report but was aware of the gist today.
“I’m still holding on to the miracle that somebody is going to be held accountable,” she said. “If the gross negligence did not occur, my son would still be here, so I’m still holding on to the miracle that somebody who actually cares can see and find and see this and be able to get some justice for my son, because he was healthy. OK, fine, the medical personnel didn;lt do their job, but how can you just let somebody deteriorate in front of you and not lift a finger to even given them a cup of water?”