• Autopsy shows Orlando mental health patient died during encounter with health employees

    By: Daralene Jones , James Tutten

    Updated:

    ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates learned an Orlando mental health patient died during an encounter with two Aspire Health employees.

    An autopsy states he was put in a position that caused him to stop breathing.

    John Stephens' family now wants the state to hold those workers responsible.


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    A medical examiner has determined Stephens' death was a homicide after employees at Aspire Health tried to restrain him to the point where his body was deprived of oxygen. 

    Investigative reporter Daralene Jones has been persistent in checking on this investigation since she first got a tip more than a year ago.

    The medical examiner's report was just released and the findings are part of the ongoing investigation.

    WFTV’s legal analyst calls this an unusual case that will take a lot of digging to come to what will be a tough decision.

    Stephens' autopsy shows hemorrhages, bleeding and tissue damage underneath his skin, along with neck trauma. 

    His father told WFTV from his South Carolina home that he long suspected there was more to his son's death. 

    “The point that I got was that they just stayed on top of him longer than they should have,” said his father, Tommy Stephens. 

    John Stephens was a patient at Aspire Health on Mercy Drive in Orlando, the area's largest inpatient mental health facility. 

    Tommy Stephens said, from what he gathers, his son became agitated during a dispute over a sweater and hit an employee. 

    According to the autopsy, he was restrained in a prone position on the floor with one staff member on his back and others holding him down for several minutes before he became unresponsive. 

    Forensic pathologist Dan Schultz is the founder of TheAutopsyDoctor.com, which specializes in providing analysis and testimony related to autopsy reports. He explained the details of the autopsy. 

    “I think probably an arm around the neck, as one's on the back attempting to hold him, then an arm is probably around the neck,” Schultz said.

    Call logs WFTV obtained show the incident was called into the Orlando Police Department as a "non-emergency." Three minutes later, someone else from the facility called 911 but hung up. 

    WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said prosecutors will be focused on intent when determining charges. 

    “Was their actions reasonable under the circumstances, reasonable even if they violated their own policies?” Sheaffer said.

    The state's investigation could take a few months. 

    “Whoever did wrong, they need to pay for it,” said Tommy Stephens.

    Aspire Health released a statement saying:

    "All of us at Aspire are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our patients. We are fully cooperating with authorities and because this is an open and ongoing investigation we are not able to comment at this time on specific details. Upon closure of the investigation, we will be able to respond accordingly."

    Aspire Health would not provide its policies related to restraints or provide details on the employees involved.

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