Max Gracia died in Orange County jail after being bitten by a police dog. His family wants answers. 

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  • Illustration by Chris Tobar Rodriguez

On Aug. 10 around 5:15 a.m., a corrections officer told a nurse that Gracia was not breathing. The nurse found him lying flat on his back without a pulse or respiration. Nurses started doing CPR on Gracia until EMS arrived and took him back to the ORMC at 5:48 a.m. He was pronounced dead about 20 minutes later. The lawsuit alleges he was already dead in his prison cell before paramedics arrived.

An autopsy by the Orange County Medical Examiner's office later concluded his death was a result of septic shock complicating the infected dog bite wounds on his legs, with HIV as a contributory factor.

"Due to the fact that the death of this individual is a result of injuries sustained during efforts to subdue him as he resisted arrest, the manner of death is homicide," the autopsy states.

Orange County spokeswoman Carrie Proudfit says after Gracia's death, Orange County's Corrections Department launched a critical review process and internal investigations regarding "the care, custody and cause of death to determine if any appropriate actions need to be taken." During the investigations after Gracia's death, one nurse resigned, while two nurses were given reprimands. The jail's medical staff was also trained regarding the identification and initial treatment of sepsis and infirmary operating procedures that pertain to checking vital signs were updated.

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office reviewed the investigation documents provided by law enforcement in the case of Gracia's death and decided not to file formal charges in June 2016, according to spokesperson Eryka Washington. That decision was made under the previous prosecutor, State Attorney Jeff Ashton, and Washington says that decision has not changed under the administration of State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

"The care and treatment provided to decedent from Aug. 6, 2015, to Aug. 10, 2015, while he was incarcerated at the OCC/CHS deviated from the acceptable medical and nursing standard of care and rose to the level of deliberate indifference," the lawsuit claims.

Proudfit says the county does not comment on pending litigation. Attorney Mark NeJame, who filed the lawsuit for the Gracia family in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, says the family is suing for damages because they want to make positive changes at the Orange County jail so that this doesn't happen to another person.

"It makes no difference whether somebody is in jail for littering on the sidewalk or multiple murders," he says. "Once they're in the care or authority of the jail they are to be treated humanely and to be provided proper medical care. That was by all indications not done in [Gracia's] case, and all the more confirmed by the subsequent reprimand and resignation."

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