A heart transplant recipient’s anti-rejection medications were ordered, but weren’t delivered to the jail until after his release, according to the medical provider for the Duval County Jail.

Dexter Barry spent two days in jail on a misdemeanor charge without his medications after JSO arrested him for arguing with his neighbor over Wi-Fi access. Barry died on Nov. 23, three days after he posted a $503 bond set by Circuit Judge Gilbert Feltel.

Barry told the arresting officer, jail medical officials and Feltel that he needed to take his anti-rejection medications, according to records obtained by The Tributary. 

A spokesperson from Armor Correctional Health Services, the for-profit company that runs the jail’s health care services, said in a statement that Barry was evaluated by medical staff within 8 hours of his arrival. The statement also says that the anti-rejection medication “was ordered and takes 48 hours at a minimum to be located and an additional 8-12 hours to to be received by the jail and then administered. By the time that highly specialized medication was available, the individual was released from custody.”

The statement, made on behalf of Chief Operating Officer Manuel Fernandez, came after The Tributary received documents from the jail that confirm a nurse called Barry’s pharmacy to verify his prescriptions, but that Barry never received them.

Andrew Bonderud, a Jacksonville civil rights attorney who is representing Barry’s family, called the statement outrageous. 

“It just doesn’t stand to reason that the guy in the video, who’s animated, who appears healthy, that he goes to jail relatively healthy and then comes out and drops dead. And the jail had nothing to do with that? Even after they concede that they didn’t give him prescription medication that is well known to be critically necessary for organ transplant patients,” he said.

Autopsy findings

Barry’s family hired a private pathologist to perform his autopsy. The cause of death was listed as a cardiac arrest due to a severe autoimmune reaction to his heart. The pathologist did not feel qualified to make the connection between the rejection and the lapse in Barry’s medications. 

Fernandez’s statement said that Armor also received Barry’s autopsy and consulted with “noted transplant surgeons and outside medical experts,” who told the company that Barry had other medical issues. 

“These other clinical issues were likely to contribute to the cause of his passing,” the statement said. “Furthermore, the autopsy itself noted that the findings were inconsistent with an acute or hyperacute rejection.”

The Tributary asked Armor for details on the backgrounds of those medical experts, but the company declined to released additional information.

Bonderud says that statement is not factual, and that a year before Barry died, a biopsy showed the heart was in excellent condition.

“The autopsy does not say that his death is inconsistent with an acute rejection,” he said. “The autopsy says exactly the opposite. The autopsy very clearly says it was an autoimmune reaction to the heart.”

Bonderud sought his own medical expert who has 35 years of experience as an emergency room physician. The expert was also most recently the medical director of a maximum security prison in another state and is a heart transplant himself, Bonderud said. 

“I’ve consulted with him and I’m waiting on some records so he can review all of the records before rendering a formal opinion on that,” he said. “But I fully expect to have support from the medical community.”

In May, The Tributary spoke with Dr. Maya Guglin, an Indiana cardiologist on the board at the American College of Cardiology, about organ transplants in general. Bodies view new organs as an invasion that must be fought off, which is why anti-rejection medications are prescribed, she said.

“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.

A bad arrest 

Armor is not the only agency responsible for Barry’s death, Bonderud said. 

“I thought it was a bad arrest,” he said. 

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

When Officer Jacob McKeon asked Barry what he said to his neighbor, Barry said that he’d “F— his ass up, don’t make me f— your ass up.”

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.”

Dexter Barry sits in the back of a JSO patrol car, as seen in police video.
Dexter Barry sits in the back of a JSO police cruiser on the day he was arrested, as seen in police video.

Bonderud doesn’t believe Barry made a conditional threat.

“That’s not a simple assault, Florida courts have been pretty clear about that,” he said. “There has to be a specific threat to do specific harm and that’s not what Dexter Barry did. But even if it was, the arresting officer should’ve done something about his serious medical need. The officer asked him if he was having an emergency and although Dexter didn’t say the word yes, he described an emergency, and the officer should’ve acted consistent with that.”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not addressed Barry’s arrest specifically, citing pending litigation, as well as an open internal review sparked by The Tributary’s reporting. 

JSO acknowledges ‘challenges’ with Armor 

Last week, JSO said the agency “has administratively reviewed specific instances involving the care provided by Armor, and we have also asked that Armor conduct their own in-house review in light of recent events.”

Armor said its investigation revealed that employees “followed protocol and delivered quality medical care.”

Asked about the contract between the two entities, JSO spokesperson Officer Christian Hancock said in an email that the contract was inked by a previous administration. 

“After Sheriff Waters took office on November 20, 2022, he became fully involved in every aspect of the agency, including the day-to-day operations involving Armor and its medical care of inmates,” the email said. “As a result, Sheriff Waters and the members of his Staff responsible for the safety and welfare of the inmate population began working with Armor personnel to improve processes and resolve challenges that were brought to their attention.”

“… Sheriff Waters is committed to continuing to ensure every inmate receives all necessary medical and mental health care while in the custody of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.”

The Tributary also learned last week that the Florida Department of Management Services opened an investigation into Armor. The company failed to report to the state that it was convicted in the death of a Milwaukee inmate in October 2022. Florida law prohibits public agencies from signing contracts with companies that have been convicted of a crime.

Armor said Friday that “the incident in Milwaukee referenced in the media is currently being disputed in the court system.” Court records show the company is appealing the conviction.

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...