(WSVN) - Broward’s public defender is blasting what he calls “retaliation” by a deputy against a county inmate. He says bleach or a chemical was intentionally put into the inmate’s cell, and tonight, the Broward Sheriff’s Office is firing back. The Nightteam’s Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.
The North Broward Bureau in Pompano Beach primarily houses inmates with special needs and mental illness.
Nathaniel Calhoun, 33, is one of them.
Gordon Calhoun, father: “I just don’t want to see another person treated like my son was.”
It was July 24 when, according to this letter sent to Sheriff Gregory Tony by public defender Gordon Weekes, Calhoun was accused of spitting in a deputy’s face.
Weekes says the deputy then retaliated by “… intentionally pouring bleach and some other chemical substance …” in Calhoun’s cell “… with clear intent to do him harm and as punishment.”
Gordon Weekes, Broward Public Defender: “The individual that was in the cell took off all of his clothes in what we believe to be an act of using the clothes to cover his face and try to breathe.”
Weekes’ letter says Calhoun was “… taken to the hospital in grave condition.”
Gordon Weekes: “You do not respond to someone’s mental illness with abuse or torture or trying to chemically subdue them with fumes from bleach. That is inappropriate and is borderline criminal.”
Gordon Calhoun: “I was angry. My wife, she exploded. She just went to pieces.”
Gordon Calhoun is Nathaniel’s father and says his son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teen, and his condition later got worse.
Gordon Calhoun: “I urged him to take his medications, but he wouldn’t listen, and he kept getting very violent at times.”
Nathaniel has pending criminal charges for trespassing at a store, resisting an officer and battery.
Court records show a judge ordered a mental health evaluation, and his father says he needs help.
Karen Hensel: “What would you say to Sheriff Tony?”
Gordon Calhoun: “I would like to talk to him and explain to him, ‘Why? How could this happen? Something like this?’ I mean, you don’t treat a dog like this.”
The public defender says Nathaniel Calhoun lost consciousness when he was overcome by the fumes in his cell, but Broward’s top cop says that’s simply not true, and that’s not all.
Sheriff Gregory Tony: “The inmate was exhibiting signs where he was throwing feces and urine in common areas as well as his cell, acting very erratic.”
Sheriff Tony says he has personally viewed surveillance video from the incident.
Sheriff Gregory Tony: “What we were able to assess clearly, no one sprayed the inmate with bleach. They cleaned the cell at some point, but he was never sprayed or saturated with any form of chemicals by any of my staff.”
Tony says the inmate was moved to another cell, was conscious, and it was hours later when medical staff determined he needed to go to the hospital.
Karen Hensel: “You don’t know what made him sick?”
Sheriff Gregory Tony: “No.”
Karen Hensel: “You understand my disconnect here. A week and a half in the hospital, something wrong happened.”
Sheriff Gregory Tony: “Most certainly he was ill. He was sick.”
Despite calls by Weekes to release the video publicly, Tony says he will not, citing an exemption in the state’s public records law and concerns over jail security.
Sheriff Gregory Tony: “These are issues of misinformation that we’ve repeatedly seen come out of our public defender’s office from our public defender.”
The deputy involved has been suspended with pay during an internal affairs investigation, and the Broward State Attorney’s Office tells 7News they immediately opened an investigation after being notified of the allegations.
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