(The Oklahoman) – The latest inmate to die at the Oklahoma County jail did not get the dialysis he needed to survive and was told to quit faking, his relatives are complaining.
Bruno Elias Bermea, 53, died June 7 on the jail’s medical floor, three days after police stopped him blocks from his home in south Oklahoma City for running a stop sign, records show.
The carpenter was jailed after the officer found a warrant had been issued for his arrest in 2014 when he was charged with a weapons offense.
“I really think they need a new company working in there,” said a cousin, Anastasia Espinosa, 29, of Oklahoma City. “All of this keeps … happening under Sheriff Whetsel. Maybe they need a new sheriff over that jail. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out, that it’s not working out. … That jail is awful.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is conducting an inquiry into the death. Sheriff John Whetsel confirmed OSBI agents at first wouldn’t investigate because the death appeared to be from natural causes.
He said the agents agreed to go ahead with the inquiry — at the insistence of his office — because of concerns. “I feel confident that our staff properly handled their responsibilities,” he said of Bermea’s time in jail.
He said the jail’s medical provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, was responsible for determining whether Bermea needed to be taken for dialysis. “We pay our medical provider over $8 million a year to provide quality … health care for our inmates,” he said. “We certainly anticipate and require that they keep up their end of the contract. … At this point in time, the OSBI is looking into all the circumstances around it, medical, everything.”
The sheriff said Bermea’s records indicate he said when he was booked on June 5 that he went to Sooner Dialysis Center in Norman.
The sheriff said Armor’s medical staff tried to contact his dialysis provider on June 6, a Monday, and June 7, a Tuesday, to get records in order to set up treatment.
“Medical staff called Sooner Dialysis two times on Monday and left two messages. Didn’t get any return call back. And then called Sooner Dialysis on Tuesday morning. Didn’t get a return call back. He died on Tuesday about noon,” Whetsel said. “There was no dialysis treatment that was missed that medical staff was aware of.”
The questions about the latest death come at a time the jail is in the spotlight already because of severe overcrowding. Complaints about the lack of proper medical care are frequent and the subject of lawsuits.
In one instance, in April, an inmate serving weekends in jail for assault was given his medicine only once, even though he had provided a jail nurse a certified copy of a judicial order requiring him to get 12 doses over three days, records show. “He had severe abdominal pain and other difficulties as a result,” his attorney complained.
In a news release hours after Bermea’s death, the sheriff’s office said: “At this time the death appears to be from natural causes. Around noon, Bermea was seen sitting upright while eating lunch in his cell with another inmate. Approximately 45 minutes later a detention officer was picking up the lunch trays when he found Bermea unresponsive. … All attempts to resuscitate Bermea were unsuccessful.”
The medical examiner’s office said the cause of death won’t be determined until a toxicology report is completed.
A spokeswoman for the jail’s medical provider said: “Armor’s team of Oklahoma caregivers is committed to delivering quality patient care to incarcerated individuals in the Oklahoma County jail.”
The company would not comment specifically about the death because of federal regulations and “out of respect for our patients’ privacy.”
Bermea lived with his mother, a widow, Rosa Bermea. “I’m grieving for him,” she said in a brief interview outside her home Monday. “I know that they probably done wrong, but I just don’t want to talk about it.”
The mother and cousin, Espinosa, did confirm that Bermea went to dialysis three to four times a week for kidney problems. Espinosa said he blamed his past drug use for his damaged kidneys.
Espinosa said she was contacted on Facebook by the wife of an inmate who had been handcuffed to Bermea in the jail’s holding area.
“This lady … said he fell multiple time and passed out, and they told him to quit faking it. And he begged for dialysis the entire time he was in there, and he told them they were going to kill him if he didn’t go. They just told him to quit faking it, and they eventually sent him to a cell,” Espinosa said.
Another inmate said guards put Bermea in a cell by himself on the medical floor just before his death because he wouldn’t stop complaining. “They said something like ‘there’s nothing wrong with
you,’ ” the second inmate’s attorney, Ed Blau, told The Oklahoman. “He could be heard screaming from outside the cell.”
The second inmate gave Blau permission to relate to The Oklahoman what he witnessed but did not want to be identified because of fear of retribution. The inmate described Bermea as being in “excruciating pain.”
“He told my client and the other cellmates he was supposed to be on dialysis, and they weren’t giving it to him,” Blau said.
Bermea’s cousin said she reached out on Facebook to relatives to try to raise money for his release. In a Facebook post June 5, she wrote: “We all make mistakes. Bruno does not deserve to die in … jail. … If you think I’m over exaggerating a friend of mine since I was a kid mysteriously died in custody there last week. They kill people! Please consider helping.”
She was not successful in raising money. The problem, she said, was that Bermea owed thousands of dollars on traffic tickets that would have had to be paid before he could be released on bail on the 2014 charge. The family would have had to pay a bondsman about $600 to $700 to have him released on that charge.
Bruno Bermea had predicted in 2014 he would die in jail. He had been caught with a loaded handgun in a pickup he was driving on October 2014 at Oklahoma City Community College, records show. Police arrested him for the gun because he had a felony conviction for assault in 1999. He was taken at first to the hospital because of his medical condition.
Later that day, on the way from the hospital to the jail, he pleaded with the officer to take him home instead, according to police records. “The prisoner was angry and yelling obscenities,” officer Patrick Martino wrote. “More specifically, he yelled, ‘I am going to ——- die in there.’”
Shortly after arriving, while being searched for contraband, he fell and broke an arm, records show. He was taken again to a hospital and told he would be charged out of custody.
He was charged on Nov. 20, 2014, with a felony count of possession of a firearm after former conviction of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He also was charged with a felony count of marijuana possession and a misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia.
Prosecutors are dismissing the charge because of his death. His funeral is Wednesday.
(Story by Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman)