Dexter Barry. [Provided by the family]

Update May 25, 2023:

Newly released Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office records reveal jail staff knew Barry needed his heart-transplant medicine but never gave it to him.

Original Story:

Dexter Barry waited 12 years to get a new heart. He saw dozens of doctors, had invasive procedures and moved states to survive. In 2020, his long wait paid off. His new heart allowed him to imagine a healthy life where he could revisit his passion for motorcycles and watch his children grow and flourish in their careers. 

But in 2022, after a misdemeanor arrest kept him in jail for two days without his life-sustaining medication, his body rejected the heart.

Barry’s neighbor called 911 in November to complain that Barry, 54, had threatened to beat him up after a weeks-long fight over wifi access. A fight never occurred, but Barry was arrested on a simple assault charge. 

Barry told Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer Jacob McKeon at least seven times that he needed to take his anti-rejection medications every day to survive, according to body camera footage that was reviewed by The Tributary. The next morning, according to the court transcript, Barry told Judge Gilbert Feltel the same.

“I am on medication,” Barry told the judge. “I just had a heart transplant, and I haven’t taken my medicine all day since I have been locked up, and I take rejection medicines for my heart so my heart won’t reject it, and I’m almost two years out.”

“OK,” Feltel responded.

The transcript from Dexter Barry’s first-appearance hearing shows him explaining why he needed heart-medication to a judge.

On Nov. 23, Barry died.

He never got his medication, according to his son and a lawyer representing his family. A pathologist hired by the family said he died after his body had rejected the heart he had waited so long for.

Andrew Bonderud, the Jacksonville civil rights lawyer who represents Barry’s family, is worried Barry didn’t get his medications because of the extreme expense to obtain them.

“Records from jail will likely show they made a note of it,” Bonderud said. “JSO recognized it’s an extremely expensive medication and how disgusting if it turns out that this was a business decision for the JSO, that they would rather not pay for the medication. They would rather risk death over a business decision. It’s one of the most outrageous cases I’ve ever seen in this city of JSO misconduct.”

An expert with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care – under which JSO is accredited – said police and jail officials had a constitutional responsibility to care for Barry. Officials had options to get Barry his medicine.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office refused to answer questions about Barry, citing an administrative review of his death, but records show that Armor Health, which operates the jail’s health care system, has not consistently given inmates health assessments within the required 14-day time frame. Because Barry had only been held for two days, it’s likely he didn’t get that assessment. It’s unknown if Barry was seen at all by a nurse during his booking because the jail declined to release medical records.

JSO spokesperson Officer Allyn Kelly declined to answer when the administrative review started or what sparked it.

‘He didn’t sound like himself’

Barry moved from Virginia to Jacksonville in 2018 when his heart started to fail. 

“He was working at Advanced Auto, and the manager said he looked real bad,” his son, Dexter Barry Jr., told the Tributary. “He had an appointment the next day, and the tube that fed oxygen to his heart had ruptured.” 

He was life-flighted that day to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, which was more equipped to handle Barry’s needed level of care. He was given a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, that he carried in a bag – essentially, his heart was battery-powered. 

“He loved his little man purse,” Barry Jr. said, laughing.

Barry decided to stay in Jacksonville where his new doctors were. He was also closer to Barry Jr., who lives in Orlando. And despite his taste for his new fashion, he kept fighting for a new heart.

In October 2020 – 12 years after his diagnosis of congestive heart failure – Barry got one.

Knowing the responsibility that came with caring for his new heart, Barry was adamant about taking his anti-rejection medications three times a day as prescribed, according to his family. He was determined to keep his heart healthy. A year before he died, a biopsy showed it was in excellent condition, Bonderud, the attorney, said. 

Barry was in jail for two days and released after he posted a $503 bond. His son later remembered his dad telling him, as soon as he got out, “I didn’t get my meds.” He would have missed at least five doses. Despite restarting his medications as soon as he could, Barry said he felt unwell.

“When I spoke to him, he didn’t sound like himself, and he had shortness of breath,” Barry Jr. said. “He said he didn’t have insurance to go to the hospital, and I said, ‘You have insurance. Go.’”

Three days later, Barry called his home health nurse to report that he had fallen in the living room and was too weak to stand up, according to a Duval County Medical Examiner’s Office report. 

Dexter Barry. [Provided by the family]

When the nurse couldn’t get Barry off the floor, he called 911. Barry died at UF Health Jacksonville. The county medical examiner declined to perform an autopsy, which left Barry’s family to get their own.

“We worked to get a GoFundMe to raise money for one, but it ended up coming out of pocket,” Barry’s daughter, Janelle King said.

The pathologist confirmed that Barry died because his body rejected the heart. He declined to make the connection between that and the days Barry went without taking his medications because he said he didn’t feel medically qualified to do so.

Dr. Maya Guglin, an Indiana cardiologist on the board at the American College of Cardiology, said organ transplant recipients have to take anti-rejection medications because their bodies view the new organ as an invasion that must be fought off. 

“If you just drop those medications, everyone is eventually going to reject that organ,” she said. 

Even if medication is restarted, it will be too late, Guglin said.

‘I’m cooled off already’

Barry’s arrest is something his kids can’t grapple with because of how minor the accusations against him were. 

Barry Jr. said that his father and a neighbor had been fighting over Wi-Fi for a few weeks. Barry told McKeon – the officer who arrested him – that his neighbor stopped paying for his half of the bill. Barry asked for payment multiple times.

That morning, Barry talked to his neighbor again. 

“At no point in time did you say you were gonna beat his ass?” McKeon asked him.

“I said I’d f— his ass up, don’t make me f— your ass up,” Barry said. 

Before he questioned Barry further, McKeon took out his handcuffs. 

“I’m going to put you in cuffs. You’re being detained. You’re not being arrested,” he said. “At this point, I do not believe you’re going to jail.”

“I’m not worried about going to jail,” Barry said. “I didn’t shake him.”

McKeon asked Barry what his disabilities were in the “event that you do go to jail.”

YouTube video

It was the first time Barry told McKeon about his heart transplant. A note was made in his arrest report that Barry requested a wheelchair, but no other medical notes were made. 

Eleven minutes after telling Barry he didn’t believe he was going to jail, McKeon told him he was going to “take a ride” for threatening his neighbor. Assault is when someone makes a threat to someone else to hurt them, is able to actually hurt them and the other person has a “well-founded fear that the violence is imminent.”

When Barry was confused about the charge, McKeon told him, “I can’t in good faith leave the two of you together and be sure something’s not gonna happen later. More so it’s to separate you for a cool-off period.”

“I’m cooled off already,” Barry told the officer, explaining that he hadn’t fought with someone in decades and he wasn’t going to hurt his neighbor. About an hour had passed since the argument. Barry remained calm during the duration of his arrest.

Barry mentioned his medications six more times. 

I take rejection medicine for my heart transplant. I can’t miss those doses.

I don’t want to go to jail, because you taking me to jail and me missing my medicine means my heart will be rejected.

I’m supposed to take my noon medicine, and I didn’t take it.

He asked when the earliest he could be released would be. He asked if they could rush to get him in front of the magistrate or if he could go to a friend’s house for the night instead of jail.  

McKeon told him the jail could get him his medication. At one point made a call to his supervisor, but he continued with the arrest. He told Barry that the jail can get him his medication.

“My medication cost $2,000,” Barry responded. “I had to come from Virginia to get the transplant. This shit is no joke.”

Barry again promised McKeon that he wouldn’t escalate the fight.

“I get what you’re saying,” McKeon said. “You know how many times police in general have been told that and then the next thing that happens is someone ends up dead?”

‘A two-minute walk would’ve saved his life’

Barry was booked into jail at 1:29 p.m. – an hour and a half after he needed to take his second dose. He went in front of Judge Gilbert Feltel the following morning. Feltel declined to answer The Tributary’s questions, citing pending litigation.

Barry’s request for his medicine seemingly went ignored again. The Tributary requested any emails between Feltel, his assistant and jail management that day, but no records were found. 

The Tributary also requested copies of security video from inside the jail that would show Barry’s booking, but the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office only sent McKeon’s body camera footage from the scene, claiming that fulfilled the request. The Tributary’s request for Barry’s medical records was denied, with the records department citing a federal health-privacy law. 

In June 2022, the Florida Model Jail Inspection noted that the Duval County Jail did not meet standards when it came to giving every inmate a health screening within 14 days of admission. 

Forty-two medical charts were reviewed with 34 patients missing those completed appraisals. This led to a backlog of appraisals. The Sheriff’s Office said it assigned staffers to address the backlog. Yet, as of April 27, a backlog of health screenings still existed. 

“Armor has determined an increase in full-time employees was required to complete assessments in a timelier manner,” Christian Hancock, a JSO spokesperson, wrote in an email about the backlog. “As per Armor’s onboarding protocols, all new medical staff will receive training and education, which includes health assessments being completed in a timelier manner … JSO, in discussions with Armor, has expressed our expectations for the health appraisals to be completed within the appropriate time frame.”

Rich Forbus, of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, has worked in county jails before and knows that JSO could have gotten Barry his meds.

Barry should have undergone an initial health screening during his intake. Medical staff should have asked him what type of chronic conditions he had along with the type of medications he took, Forbus said. It’s unknown whether Barry underwent any screening because JSO declined to answer The Tributary’s questions.

“Typically, the provider for that facility would be notified immediately in that kind of case and told what’s going on,” Forbus said. “With medications, our standards indicate that they should be staying on the same type of medications they were receiving and the only change to a medication should be a clinical decision. It shouldn’t be based on cost savings or anything like that.”

Jails usually don’t allow outside medications in, but in the case for rare or expensive life-sustaining medications, Duval County could have made an exception, Forbus said. 

“You can verify that the pills are what they should be and that the person has a prescription,” he said. “This should’ve been something that went up to a command level to have someone make a decision on how to handle it.”

Barry’s children hope to get justice for their father.

“The police officer could’ve gone inside and got his medication,” Barry Jr. said. “This man is telling you, my heart needs those meds. A two-minute walk would’ve saved his life.”

Nichole Manna reports on the criminal justice system in Jacksonville. She has previously covered criminal justice at newspapers in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and Tennessee, but is originally...