Editor’s note: This is part of the Sun’s continuing coverage of medical treatment provided at the Charlotte County Jail. To see other related stories visit yoursun.com.
PUNTA GORDA — After 17 days without heart medication in the Charlotte County Jail, Stephanie Miller was released from custody.
One week later, she was hospitalized, getting treatment for sepsis and endocarditis. The 38-year-old mother of four died three days after that.
Now, Stephanie’s mother Debbie Miller and family members want answers from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.
“I tried everything to get her those pills,” Debbie Miller said. “I repeatedly called the jail, Stephanie’s public defender and the judge’s office. Stephanie’s medication was locked in the evidence room. They just refused to give it to her.
“Every day she got worse, but no one would help,” Miller said. “Stephanie’s birthday was May 31. Instead of her being with her family, she’s gone. She was locked up over possession of no more than 20 grams of marijuana. She was no angel, but I certainly don’t think she should be dead over it.”
Miller said if the Charlotte County Jail staff or the sheriff simply reviewed Stephanie’s recent medical history, they would have learned how sick she was while in custody.
“I have 4,000 pages of medical records clearly showing she had a bad heart and was in the hospital for several months before she was arrested,” Miller said.
Stephanie misses court
Court records show Stephanie Miller was originally arrested in September of 2017 and charged with two misdemeanors — possession of paraphernalia and possession of marijuana less than 20 ounces. Her court date was April 6, 2018.
However, on March 5, 2018, Miller suffered heart-related illnesses and was hospitalized while out on bond. A doctor’s note was sent to the judge and bond company on March 12. Despite the doctor’s notes, Charlotte County Judge John Burns issued a bench warrant on April 20 for Miller. Another doctor’s order was sent to the court on April 11, stating, the patient is “currently in Fawcett Memorial Hospital since 3/5/18 and will remain in the hospital until further notice.”
On May 1, Miller was cleared to go home. Charlotte County Sheriff’s detective Billy Tuck arrested Miller in the parking lot of Fawcett Memorial Hospital and took her to Charlotte County Jail, according to court documents. The next morning at her first appearance before a judge, she received a June 8 court date and was released.
Just 12 days later, Miller suffered internal bleeding and was readmitted to Fawcett Hospital on May 13. While in the hospital, she underwent neck surgery on June 29. Twice Miller was comatose, her mother said.
Due to her hospitalization, Miller missed her June 8 court date. On July 16, a warrant was issued to arrest her for failing to appear for two court appearances.
Miller was released from the hospital on Aug. 15 with a metal neck halo supporting her head.
Sick again, Stephanie suffered blood clots, shortness of breath and other heart-related issues. She was admitted to Sarasota Memorial Hospital on Aug. 27. She was released with a neck brace Oct. 29. She was instructed to wear it to help with her condition.
Sarasota Co. Jail
While visiting a relative in North Port, Stephanie was arrested on Nov. 10, 2018 by a North Port police officer on the Charlotte County warrant. She was taken to the Sarasota County Jail and held for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.
Because she was wearing a neck brace and explained she had recently had surgery, the Sarasota County Jail medical unit, under the direction of Armor Correctional Health Services, followed its policy. They ordered Stephanie’s medical records. She was taken to Sarasota Memorial for an examination.
Armor Correctional records, provided to the Sun by Debbie Miller show on Nov. 11, Stephanie was given a mental health screening and taken to the hospital due to her condition before she was booked. Based on her extensive medical history, and not having all of her necessary medication, Stephanie’s prescriptions were filled at the hospital. She was then admitted into the jail with an antibiotic, blood pressure and heart medications. A Sarasota Memorial doctor’s note shows Miller was prescribed Doxyxycline “for the rest” of her life. Medical records show while in the Sarasota County Jail, Miller was given all of her medications as prescribed by the doctors at the hospital.
“Stephanie was also allowed to wear her neck brace and was on her medications in the Sarasota County Jail for the three days she was in their care,” Miller said. “They treated her with dignity because the Armor Correctional Health Services staff followed their policy.”
Charlotte Co. Jail
Stephanie Miller entered the Charlotte County Jail holding area wearing her neck brace. Debbie Miller said everything changed after her daughter was booked at the Charlotte County Jail.
“Stephanie’s medical neck brace was ripped from her neck,” Miller said.
According to the contract between the Charlotte County Jail and the medical provider Corizon, inmates should receive a comprehensive and medical health evaluation during the intake health screening.
Miller contends that never happened in her daughter’s case. Instead, jail records show the neck brace was stored as item No. 45289 in the property room. The Nov. 14, 2018 jail booking sheet also shows all of Stephanie Miller’s new medications from Sarasota Memorial Hospital including metoprolol (100mg) (31 tablets), doxycycline (100mg) (30 tablets), hydralazine (25mg of 89 tablets) to be taken three times each day, were all sent to the property evidence room.
According to Stephanie’s Sarasota Memorial Hospital medical records, on Oct. 29, she was prescribed metoprolol to treat high blood pressure to prevent a stroke, heart attack, chest pain (angina) and improve survival after a heart attack.
She was prescribed Metoprolol in combination with the other medications to treat heart failure. It is used to relax blood vessels, slow the heart rate to improve blood flow and decrease blood pressure.
Hydralazine was ordered three times a day by the Sarasota Memorial doctor to combat chronic congestive heart failure for Miller, who had a pacemaker.
On Oct. 29, Miller was ordered to take Doxycycline for the rest of her life by her doctor at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, according to Stephanie’s discharge records.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections. Stephanie’s discharge paperwork states she should “call 911 or seek medical attention” if she experiences irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, fever, loss of consciousness, dizziness, weakness, blurred vision or vomiting.
“Don’t delay. Fast diagnosis and treatment can prevent or limit the amount of heart damage during a heart attack,” Stephanie’s medical discharge records show.
Stephanie’s health fades
Without her prescribed medication, Stephanie Miller was nauseous, weak and dizzy, according to emails she sent her mother Debbie. Stephanie allegedly begged the guards for her medication and repeatedly asked to see a Corizon nurse, according to her jail emails. Miller emailed her mother multiple times a day asking her to call the jail. Additionally, Miller also called Stephanie’s public defender, state attorney, the sheriff’s office and Judge Burns’ office. A few days later, a frustrated Debbie Miller shared her daughter’s emails with the Sun.
On Nov. 21, the Sun sent emails to Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Katie Heck, jail officials and Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell. The email explained Stephanie allegedly didn’t have access to her neck brace or prescriptions. The email stated Stephanie had slipped into a coma twice while in the hospital earlier in the year and her medical records would likely match the claim.
“She is allegedly being deprived of usage of the neck brace because it’s technically considered a weapon. However, she was also sent back into the general population and ‘kicked out’ of the medical unit,” the Sun wrote. “She is allegedly being refused access to the paperwork to show the medical staff and her neck brace. Her mother is trying to get in touch with someone who will either call an ambulance and send her back to the hospital or give her the proper medical treatment and attention for her illness while in jail.”
Sheriff Bill Prummell sent an email to the Sun about the contracted medical jail services through Corizon Health.
“Thank you for reaching out to us. This was addressed and found to be false. Ms. Miller is being properly tended too. Because of HIPAA laws I cannot go into detail. Sheriff William Prummell.”
According to the CCSO policy, the medical service staff at the jail are all “properly licensed and certified.” “Medication distribution is designated by the medical staff.” The policy is in line with Corizon’s contract with CCSO which states, “Corizon is an individual contractor and all medical care decisions will be the sole responsibility of Corizon.”
On Nov. 30, Stephanie pleaded no contest in court on the two misdemeanor charges. Burns gave her credit for time served which was a total of 49 days from the time of her first arrest. The charges were dropped for failure to appear for her two missed court dates and she was released from jail.
Seven days later, Stephanie was admitted to Bayfront Medical Center in Port Charlotte. She needed “high doses of long-term antibiotics for her endocarditis and sepsis,” according to the Dec. 9, medical records. Stephanie died Dec. 10 of “multiple organ system failure, endocarditis, sepsis and congestive heart failure following heart valve replacement,” her death certificate shows. Manner of death was deemed natural.
Corizon spokesperson Eve Hutcherson, wrote to the Sun in an email, “While federal patient privacy laws prohibit us from discussing details of the care provided to individual patients without prior written permission from them, we are confident that the care provided to this patient was appropriate and timely.”
Other inmate issues
In April, the Sun asked Prummell about other inmates complaining of poor medical treatment, including a woman with an alleged mental disorder and another with a dislocated shoulder who weren’t getting medication or treatment.
Prummell wrote to the Sun and copied all Charlotte County commissioners in an email.
“If an inmate is identified as not receiving the proper care, I will be the first to correct it and take the proper action against the entity or entities not providing those services. The truth is that our inmate population are receiving better care then many of our citizens because the law dictates it. Sheriff William Prummell.”
Prummell wrote that sometimes during intake, the detainee has a difficult time remembering their specific medications or providers. It often creates a delay in getting the inmate care.
However in Stephanie Miller’s case, she had fresh new medications from Sarasota Memorial Hospital including a daily supply necessary to control heart infection and other related symptoms.
Prummell wrote to the Sun, “All detention staff receive training on inmate manipulation because many are masters of it to try and get what they want. It appears to me that they are manipulating you and you are falling for it hook, line, and sinker. As I have stated, I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by not providing proper care as outlined in State and Federal law.”