The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility. [Andrew Pantazi]

A state judge found Armor Correctional Health Services at fault for a 2020 COVID-19 outbreak that infected at least 197 inmates and staff at the Duval County jail. 

Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge Katie Dearing ordered Armor to pay more than $6.3 million in damages and attorneys fees to two former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office correctional officers and their wives after both men were hospitalized with the coronavirus. 

Armor handled the jail’s medical care after the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office signed a contract with the company in Oct. 2017. The Sheriff’s Office dropped the contract and signed with a new company, NaphCare, after The Tributary reported that deaths in the jail tripled under Armor. 

A representative from Armor did not return a request for comment. The communications firm that has previously handled media inquiries said it no longer represents the company.  

Jacksonville’s medical examiner has attributed nine inmate deaths to the coronavirus. The first death happened on July 31, 2020. 

The outbreak began, according to the lawsuit, when an Armor doctor went to work knowing he was sick and likely carried the disease. When the outbreak occurred, JSO confirmed 178 inmate cases after 2,887 tests were given.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, corrections officer Kenneth Vansant was hospitalized for almost a month and diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome with 90% of his lungs inflamed. Fellow corrections officer Jeremy Flanigan was hospitalized for a week and had to be placed on oxygen because of similar inflammation to his lungs, according to the lawsuit the officers filed against Armor and the doctor accused of bringing the coronavirus into the jail. 

The men’s medical costs swelled to almost $600,000. 

Vansant and Flanigan showed they suffered long-term effects of the disease. Judge Dearing ordered Armor to pay the men $3.1 million and $2.2 million, respectively, after calculating hospital bills, future medical costs, loss of salary and emotional damages. 

The judge also determined their wives were owed damages and awarded them a combined $532,838. 

“The Court finds that Armor was negligent in its training and supervision of its employees at the Facility and that Armor’s negligence was a proximate cause for the Plaintiffs’ damages,” Dearing wrote.

This is at least the second time in three months that a court has ordered Armor to pay money stemming from someone hurt in the Duval County jail. 

The officers also have a pending lawsuit against Armor’s doctor who infected them.

In July, Armor agreed to settle with the family of Lina Odom, 28, who died after her withdrawal symptoms were ignored in 2018, Attorney Jack Cook said. The settlement came to $170,000.

Of that, Armor agreed to pay $128,771 over the course of 24 months beginning on Sept. 1. Another $41,229 was supposed to be paid in a lump sum within 30 days from ProAssurance – a company that sells liability insurance to doctors – to Cook’s firm, Morgan & Morgan.

Cook filed a motion on Sept 5, telling Judge Marcia Morales Howard that Armor had yet to make any payment. The case docket hasn’t been updated to show whether or not Armor has since paid.

The City of Jacksonville settled its part of the lawsuit separately for $10,000.

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...