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Out of sight, out of mind: A father longs to know how his mentally ill son went blind and deaf in state custody

Story BY LEONORA LaPETER ANTON Photos by John Pendygraft

Aaron Richardson Sr. cringed as bailiffs pushed his son into a Broward County courtroom.

Clad in jailhouse scrubs, Junior hung his head. He seemed thin and frail.

"What's the matter with him?" Circuit Judge Marc Gold asked. It was March 7, 2014.

Assistant public defender Gabe Ermine explained that Junior, 25, was schizophrenic. He had deteriorated in jail and state mental hospitals the past three years following an arrest for carjacking. Somehow Junior became deaf at Florida State Hospital and then blind in the Broward County jail.

Now he was no longer eating. It was as if he was trying to fade away.

"He's lost his hearing, he's lost his sight?" the judge asked, incredulously. "This is not even believable."

The judge looked at Junior, who stared downward with large, dark eyes. He seemed unaware of his surroundings and fiddled with a hearing amplifier that didn't help.

"You're telling me he was healthy a year ago?" Judge Gold asked.

"Yes," Ermine replied.

Deputies at the jail, Ermine said, had told him Junior refused his eye drops.

"This is stunning," the judge said. "He's not getting his eye drops, so he's going blind? I mean what I'm hearing, it's like a horrible fairy tale."

Aaron felt helpless. Throughout Junior's incarceration, he had sent at least five letters to the court about his son's declining health. "I know my son has been charged with a crime, but he is still a human being," he had written.

He wanted someone to be held accountable. He wanted answers. But what he really wanted was for the judge to let Junior out of jail so they could take him to a hospital.

READ THE SPECIAL REPORT: A father longs to know how his mentally ill son went blind and deaf in state custody.

 


2013 (continued)

 

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