Hollywood Police Chief Chris O’Brien said during a news conference that Jorge Carballo, the facility administrator of the now-shuttered Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, has been arrested, along with supervising nurse Sergo Colin and nurses Althia Meggie and Tamika Miller.
All four have been charged with aggravated manslaughter.
Carballo and Colin each face 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter. Miller has been charged with six counts of aggravated manslaughter and three counts of tampering with evidence in connection with patient medical records. Meggie has been charged with two counts of aggravated manslaughter and two counts of tampering with evidence.
Meggie, 36, of Broward County, surrendered to police around noon on Monday after she and three other employees were notified last week “that charges were being brought,” Meggie’s attorney, Lawrence Hashish, told Fox News.
Colin, 45, and Carballo, 62, also surrendered to Hollywood police on Monday, Hashish said. As for Miller, 31, she was behind bars in Miami-Dade County, according to jail records. The North Miami Beach Police Department arrested her on Saturday on a warrant issued in Broward County, Miami-Dade police told Fox News.
The arrests marked the first criminal charges connected to patients’ heat-related deaths in September 2017. O’Brien called the criminal investigation, which spanned two years, “one of the most extensive in the history of our agency.”
He told reporters on Tuesday, “Since the emergency evacuation of the facility on the morning of September 13, 2017, investigators have conducted hundreds of interviews to gather witness statements; searched, collected and closely analyzed more than a thousand pieces of evidence; and painstakingly reviewed countless case files.”
Police stressed that more arrests were anticipated.
Patients, ranging in age from 57 to 99, started dying three days after Hurricane Irma tore through the area in September 2017, knocking out power and affecting air-conditioning at the nursing home, which housed about 150 patients at the time.
Twelve of those deaths were ruled homicides due to heat exposure, and two other people died from causes not related to the heat, The Sun-Sentinel reported.
Investigators said workers at the facility did not evacuate patients as temperatures inside started rising, even though a fully functional hospital was across the street.
O’Brien said Tuesday that the patients’ families “placed their faith and trust in the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills, its medical and administrative staff, and that trust was betrayed.”
“They have been living a nightmare,” O’Brien told reporters. “The four individuals now facing criminal charges failed to take the actions needed to protect their patients and render aid at a time when they needed it the most.”
Hashish said his client “did not neglect any of her patients.”
“My client and the people she was working with were caring for residents under natural-disaster conditions created by Hurricane Irma. No one could have anticipated the tragedy to come and, as always, hindsight is 20/20,” Hashish said. “The real crime is that the state is looking to blame selfless caregivers.”
Hashish said his client, Colin and Carballo made their first court appearances Tuesday in Broward County.
He said on Tuesday bond was set at $7,500 per count for the aggravated manslaughter charge and $1,000 for tampering with or fabricating evidence. All three former employees were released on bond on Tuesday, according to Hashish.
He said Miller has not yet been transferred to Broward County.
Attorney Jim Cobb, who was representing Carballo, said none of the employees understood why they were being charged. Cobb told The Associated Press that Carballo and other administrators were told repeatedly before the storm that they could call then-Gov. Rick Scott’s personal cellphone for help. Cobb said they called five times but never heard back from Scott.
Attorney David Frankel, who represented Colin, said the defendants did everything to keep the patients cool and hydrated. He said they brought in small air-conditioners and fans.
Frankel added that the staff did not evacuate patients to the hospital across the street because it had been sending them patients.
“They were calling the emergency operations center for the governor’s office and they were calling the governor himself who was posting his cell phone number on television saying for people to call if there was an emergency. Those people never responded and never came,” Frankel said Tuesday.
In a statement, Scott, now a U.S. senator, said the nursing home should have called 911.
The nursing home’s license was suspended days after the storm and it was later closed.
Fox News’ Nicole Darrah and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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