Exclusive: Family speaks out about jail death of Devon Averheart

December 9, 2015

AverheartOn Thursday, Nov. 19, Escambia County announced that 21-year old Samuel Devon Averheart had been found unresponsive in the infirmary unit of the Escambia County Main Jail. The jail’s medical staff called emergency medical services at 3 a.m. with crews arriving on scene at 3:09 a.m. Averheart was pronounced dead at 3:23 a.m.

This past weekend, his mother, aunt and uncle sat down with me to talk about Devon Averheart and their experiences with the Escambia County Jail. They were still hurting and have struggled with how a healthy young man, who had turned 21 less than a month before entering the jail, had been found “unresponsive” in an infirmary cell the week before Thanksgiving.

Averheart’s death is one of five this year, the third since August. Last week, County Administrator Jack Brow terminated his Corrections Director Michael Tidwell. He announced that he would ask the Board of County Commissioners to let him hire a medical director for the jail infirmary.

Devon Averheart’s death is disturbing because of the man’s age and how callously the county has treated his family. It will be months before the county will release its records concerning the death. Inweekly didn’t get the records of another inmate who died last May, Rodney Berry, until the week before Thanksgiving.

In Jail For $15
Devon wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t a hardened criminal. He did have a prior felony conviction for marijuana possession in 2014. He was a few months away from finishing his probation and having his sentence adjudicated.

Then he screwed up in October. He took items, total valued less than $15, from a convenience store.

Kelli Burd, his aunt, said, “He was just out with his friends. They were goofing off, and I believe they were drinking a little bit. He thought, I don’t know, that it would be funny to take something.”

His mother, Kandace Wigley, knew the store manager and tried to pay for the items.

“I was trying to get her to maybe not press charges and let us settle it because we’ve known her for so long,” said his mother. “I asked her to give him a chance, and she told me she’d think about it.”

Devon was arrested on Oct. 13 for the petty theft and was released without having to post a bond. However, because he was on probation for the marijuana conviction, Devon was arrested on Tuesday, Nov. 10, charged with felony violation of probation and not allowed to post a bond. He had turned 21 on Oct. 30.

His mother said that his probation officer didn’t want to violate him, but she didn’t have a choice because the prior arrest.

“In 21 years, I’ve never had to raise my voice to my nephew, said Elbert Burd, his uncle. “That’s how much of a good kid he was.”

He said that Devon weighed about 300 pounds and was healthy. “He could throw a football from here to the court grounds,” he said. “He could run up to a wall and do a back flip. He was fast.”

His aunt added, “He was very, very respectful. If you talk to anyone, even the probation officer will say how much of a just respectful gentleman he was.”

His mother said, “I loved him so much, him and my younger son. I think he was just worried about going to jail.”

She explained, “That’s what he told me. He said, ‘I just don’t want to leave you, Mama.’ He was worried about me.”

She told him, “Well, you know, when you do a crime like to have marijuana, it’s illegal, you know, there’re consequences. You’re just learning, and you’re just making a mistake.”

The young man had no health issues, according to his family, except for “a little anxiety when he was 17.”

Inweekly had been told the inmate had taken Spice before being placed in the county jail. The mother admitted that he had experimented with the drug. The night her son died, she had mentioned it to the correctional officers.

“He was smoking spice, but I hated it and he had actually quit smoking spice a week or so before he went in, “ she said. “Because I didn’t allow it around me and he couldn’t lie to because I’d known when I looked at him if he had been doing it. He had said he didn’t want it no more.”

She denied that she ever said her son had a bad Spice problem.

His aunt added, “If they thought they were dealing with a Spice issue, why did they take him to the hospital and never tell them at the hospital that you’re dealing with a Spice issue?”

His Condition Spirals Over 10 Days
While Devon was in the county jail, his mother had two video visitations. A third one was scheduled, but her son never appeared.

“His first visit, he was remorseful and telling her how sorry he was because he went to jail,” said the aunt. “He just was saying, ‘Mama, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that I went to jail.’”

His mother told Inweekly that Devon seemed a little confused.

“Yeah, the first time and he’s just looking like he just woke up,” she said. “ You know what I’m saying? He looked at me, and he had this ‘is this real’ or ‘am I dreaming’ kind of look.”

The mother put money in his commissary account so he could use the phones. She wrote him a letter with her phone number, but he never called her. She doubts whether jail personnel ever gave him the letter.

The second visit on Sunday, Nov. 15 was much worse. Devon appeared to be completely disoriented.

He told her that he had passed out. “He said after the first, he said after you left that’s when all hell broke loose,” said the mother. She asked her son what he was talking about.

Devon said, “I don’t know Mama, but them officers, they didn’t care about me at all. The men (fellow inmates) come and help me; it warmed my heart.”

She couldn’t get much else out of her son.

When the mother got into the truck after the visit, she told her sister and brother-in-law that something was wrong with Devon. She said that he was incoherent, and didn’t act like her son. The aunt tried to find out what was happening with her son but was stonewalled by jail personnel.

“First thing on Monday morning, I got on the phone, and I started calling the nurses because he was in an infirmary,” said the aunt. “We wanted to figure out why he would be in an infirmary.”

She relayed how the phone conversation went:

Nurse: “Well, we can’t give out information.”
Aunt: “Well, there’s something wrong, how can you tell us something’s wrong?”
Nurse: “Well we can have him sign a medical release form.”
Aunt: “Well will you have him sign the medical release form?”
Nurse: “Yes we will.”

Called back later, Aunt: “Did you have him sign the medical release form?”

Nurse: “No…”—and you know they were just rude and they’re just going to push me around— “We’ll have him sign the medical release form.”
Aunt: “Is he okay?”
Nurse: “I can’t give you that information.”
Aunt: “Well please help him, please take care of him.”

The family has since heard from people inside the jail that Devon had convulsions that may lead to him being taken to the hospital, but they have not gotten any confirmation from the county. Devon never experienced convulsion before going into the jail, according to his family.

According to the county’s release, the young man was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 17 to be evaluated, and treated of medical condition that has yet to be disclosed. The physician released him, and Averheart was placed in a cell in the jail infirmary.

The only other fact that county officials released was the inmate was housed alone and checked every hour by medical staff in the infirmary before he died. And the press release also said:

Escambia County takes the responsibility for health care of each inmate very seriously. The main jail is accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which sets the standard recognized by the medical profession and the courts as the benchmark for establishing and measuring a correctional health services system.

His Last Day
On Wednesday, Nov. 18, the mother had a third video visitation scheduled, but she got the runaround from the jail staff.

“The visit was at five, and I couldn’t wait to see him because I was just so worried about him because she said that he had gotten rushed to the hospital,” said the mother.

The aunt explained that one of the nurses had let it slip during her numerous phones calls that Devon had been taken to Sacred Heart. However, the nurse refused to tell her why or explain why they hadn’t got her nephew to sign the medical release form.

“I go to visit, and the lady is like ‘Oh, you’re down from two o’clock’ and I’m like “No ma’am it’s five,”’ said the mother. “I just started crying.”

She stepped outside and called her sister who texted her a screenshot of the confirmation for the 5 p.m. visitation.

The mother said, “I went back in there, and I showed her… I said ‘Ma’am, here’s the confirmation number right here.’”

They rescheduled her visitation for 6 p.m. The mother killed the hour by walking over to Krystal. She came back and sat in front on the screen at desk 29. Her son’s face never appeared on the screen.

When she went back to the front desk, she was told to go back wait. Her son would be appearing. “So I went back around there, and I was just praying and praying like come on Devon where are you at?” she said. “Everybody else’s visit was done already. I hadn’t talked to him since his last visit.”

They called her name over the loud speaker and told her that her son wouldn’t be able to visit that evening, but gave no other explanation.

She walked the two blocks to the county jail.

“I wanted to find out why he was in the infirmary,” she said. “I wanted to speak to the nurse from the infirmary, but my cell phone was dead.”

Distraught she walked into the empty jail lobby. She spied a phone and asked to speak to someone from the infirmary. She was told someone would be out.

Meanwhile, her sister taught the visit had gone well.

“And the whole time I’m thinking she’s in visitation because I had sent her the email with her confirmation time and I hadn’t heard anything back,” said the aunt. “She should be good. She’s visiting. Whenever she gets out, we’ll figure out what’s going on.”

But the visit hadn’t gone well. The aunt said, “Then the next phone call I get she’s walked back down to the main jail, and she said her phone died and that they wasn’t going to let her see him. So I tried to get from my house, which is like halfway to Perdido, get to her.”

The mother said that a nurse finally comes out to visit with her. “She looked at me, and she said ‘Your son is just fine. Go home, get you some sleep and tomorrow morning and call up here and ask for me.”

The mother said that was when she mentioned Spice. “I was like “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I don’t know what he’s telling Y’all. He cannot…”

The mother and aunt went home. At around 1 a.m. on Nov. 19, the mother woke up.

The aunt said, “She feels like he passed away at one o’clock in the morning. Something woke her up out of a sound sleep at one o’clock in the morning.

The mother interrupted, crying softly, “They didn’t come tell me until six-thirty, and I was like ‘Please don’ tell me my baby is gone.’”

After officers had come to the home to tell the family that Devon had been found unresponsive and had died, the family drove to the jail.

“We made it to the jail about seven o’clock,” said the aunt. “They wouldn’t tell us nothing at the jail. They wouldn’t tell us nothing.”

The family was told that death was under investigation. They would have to walk across the street to the ECSO administration building and talk with the investigators, who weren’t in the office yet.

They went back to the jail.

The aunt told the jail personnel, “Y’all don’t even have the decency. Nobody, the nurses, somebody don’t have the decency to come out here and tell this woman what happen, apologize and tell her you’re sorry, and you’re looking into it. You’re working on it. All you can say is ‘it’s under investigation.’ That’s all the words that come out of your mouth?”

The family later tried to hold a small candlelight vigil outside the jail but were told to leave because the corrections officers that had a tip someone in the group had a gun.

They asked for a police escort for Devon’s funeral procession and were turned down by both the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and the Pensacola Police Department.

They asked to be refunded any monies in Devon’s commissary account at the jail and were the county was keeping them for “jail fees.”

They have yet to hear anything from more from the county.


Editor’s Note: The time has come to ask the Department of Justice to investigate. The county commissioners and the public are not being given all the facts surrounding these jail deaths.

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