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County sued for negligence in overdose death

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of April 19, 2012)

Barry Giles from the ankle bracelet monitoring company arrived at the house in southwest Vero Beach after police and paramedics.

The dead woman, with a court-ordered monitoring bracelet still attached to her ankle, was on her bedroom floor, facedown.  Next to her on the beige rug – wet with blood from her nose and mouth – were hypodermic needles with traces of a cocktail of Roxycontin (fast-working oxycodone) and the tranquilizer Xanax that she crushed together and injected.

The overdose death of Brooke Grenier, 23, has led to a wrongful death lawsuit against Indian River County, which could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars if the case plays out as the family hopes. 

Two days before her death, Grenier was released from the Indian River County jail, wearing an ankle bracelet to ensure she obeyed a judge’s order not leave her mom’s home until her trial in 10 days on June 19, 2009.  A pain-pill addict for years, she had been in jail for two and a half months after being charged with a DUI and illegal possession of oxycodone.

But the day after she got out of jail, Grenier convinced Giles, her ankle-bracelet monitoring officer, to let a friend drive her to a bank a mile from her home to cash a check. The money would pay the monitoring system fee, she told Giles on the phone. She would be right back with the cash she owed, she promised.

But the quick trip triggered a chain of events that ended in her death. And, her mother, Tawny Grenier, and the family has now sued Giles, the monitoring company, Court Programs of Florida, and Indian River County for negligence, saying they’re to blame for her death.

Here is the logic (or, some night say, lack of it), which is the basis of the lawsuit: If Giles hadn’t let  Brooke Grenier leave home, she wouldn’t have cashed a check and given money to friends to get pain killers from a doctor, and she wouldn’t have overdosed and died. Thus, Giles is to blame for her death, along with his employer and Indian River County because it hired the monitoring company.

Which raises the question: What about Brooke’s responsibility for her own actions?

Apart from the possible role of the prescribing doctor and the friends who brought the drugs to her, wasn’t she more responsible for her own death than the monitoring officer who mistakenly trusted her and let her leave, the monitoring system company who employed him, and the county?  After all, she’s the one who arranged to get the drugs and she’s the one who injected them.

“True, she was an addict, but if she hadn’t gotten permission to leave the house from Giles who worked for the monitoring system hired by the county, she wouldn’t have gotten the money for the drugs and she wouldn’t have died on that day,” said her mother’s attorney John O’Malley from Plantation.

Paul Berg, attorney for defendant Indian River County, said “the county didn’t even have a contract with the monitoring system. We’re asking the judge to dismiss us from the case.”

But O’Malley insisted a work order from the county went to the clerk’s office and on to the monitoring company, making the county ultimately responsible for Grenier’s death.

“The monitoring system is run by the court, which is part of the county,” said Indian River County Sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Luther.

Raising the next question: If the case sticks, how will blame for Brooke’s death be decided?

According to documents in the file, who is at fault will hinge on whether the role of Giles, the monitoring company and the county was “active and intervening,” meaning that they were more responsible for Brooke’s death than Brooke, herself.

“Brooke Grenier was more than 50 percent at fault for her own harm,” said the county in responding to the suit. 

Furthermore, alleges the county, the friends who got her the drugs, along with the doctor who prescribed them “broke the causal link between Court Programs alleged negligence and (her) death.” They and Brooke, said the county, “are the active and intervening cause.”

O’Malley countered in the suit: “Court Programs should have done what they were supposed to do and keep her in the house.”

But O’ Malley said he thought “the real culprit” was the doctor in Lake Worth who prescribed the drugs that killed Brooke Grenier. That doctor, Cesar DeLeon, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, is currently serving a seven-year federal prison sentence for illegally prescribing pain killers to dozens and dozens of people.

“It’s a tough case when it comes to proving the negligence of Indian River County,” conceded, O’Malley. “But people need to know of everyone’s involvement and decide for themselves who is to blame for Brooke’s death.”