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Orlando Sentinel

Parents: Man Was Changed By Jail

By Pedro Ruz Gutierrez

December 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Nine years ago, Fabio Alexander Pons languished at the Orange County Jail for three days without medical attention for a broken hip he suffered during a fight with police.

Pons, then 42, got around by dragging himself on his hands and knees in his cell, according to court records. The jail's staff made fun of him, thinking he was faking his injuries, records say. And the jail's former medical director, Dr. Billy Blakey, misdiagnosed his injury.

That November 1993 experience changed Pons, his parents said of the Army veteran who was honorably discharged in 1970 after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and who had a long history of brushes with the law.

Since then, say his parents, a fear of authority and uniformed officers consumed Pons, who died Nov. 30 during another encounter with police. The 320-pound Orlando resident was 51.

His 20th encounter with officers in at least 13 years is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"He was not the same" after the 1993 arrest, his mother, Sonja B. Pons, 73, said Monday. "He felt more panic after the jail incident."

As a result of his injury and delay in treatment, Pons required a complete hip replacement, which medical experts later testified might have been avoided with a simple surgery.

Pons sued the city and county and settled for $70,000.

On Nov. 29, 1993, Pons arrived at the Winn-Dixie on West Colonial Drive to get a bag of fried chicken gizzards. He complained to store employees about the smell and look of his food. He became loud and agitated and was asked to leave by Officer Edward "Ed" Mann, who was working off-duty at the store, according to police reports.

Mann was about to reach for his handcuffs and can of pepper spray when Pons sprayed his own pepper spray in Mann's face. He also threatened Mann with a 10-inch hunting knife.

Mann called for assistance. Mann, who would later become a sex-crimes detective for Orlando, was convicted last month of having sexual relations with a minor.

When three officers arrived to back up Mann, they struggled with Pons, handcuffed him and threw him into a squad car.

Pons did not stop fighting, police said, and he used his feet to break a rear window.

Officers pulled Pons from the patrol car and used a hobble restraint to control his feet. Andrew Moler, Pons' lawyer, said officers spread his legs apart so far that Pons' hip cracked.

"They pulled him apart like a wishbone on a chicken over some chicken gizzards," said Moler, who now represents Pons' parents. No complaints or lawsuits have been filed against the four officers involved in last month's incident.

Moler and Pons' parents -- Fabio E. Pons, 78, and Sonja -- say Pons' deadly encounter with police sounded too familiar.

Police say Pons led them on a mile-long pursuit that ended in front of his parents' apartment building at the Windsor Apartments off Kirkman Road.

"He died 10 yards from our apartment," the father said of the grassy spot where his handcuffed son became "unresponsive" after four officers overpowered and subdued him.

"For a minor traffic violation, it's ridiculous," Sonja Pons said during an interview.

Police said he "constantly resisted with violence."

At about noon Nov. 30, eyewitnesses told reporters, police used their batons and hands to overpower Pons, who was unarmed. A pellet gun, that Pons owned, was found inside the van he was driving.

Police wonder why Pons led them on a pursuit at normal speeds.

But his parents and Moler say they know why.

"He knew better than to run away from them," Moler said. "The only thing he did was drive to familiar surroundings."

Ever since his schizophrenia diagnosis in 1970, the unemployed veteran sought the company of his parents and family for social and financial support. When they moved to Orlando from Puerto Rico in 1986, he followed the next year. He tried living in Miami and St. Petersburg, but he did not get used to being far from his parents, they said.

Sgt. Orlando Rolon, an Orlando police spokesman, said he could not comment on the case pending the outcome of the FDLE investigation. In general, he said, the amount of force officers use in arrests equals the level of resistance put up by suspects.

"If the situation escalates, you're going to do everything you can to neutralize that force, to control the person," Rolon said.

On Pons, the police spokesman did say, "He was acting irrational from the beginning. He did things . . . no other normal citizen would have done."

Pons' father said FDLE investigators told him his son died of a heart attack. The Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner's Office has not completed its autopsy.

Orlando police also await the autopsy, which they say will put a lot of speculation to rest.

"I think that it, along with the use of force [investigation] and the FDLE report, will paint a clear picture of what exactly happened that day," Rolon said.

The family has hired forensic pathologist Dr. William Anderson to review the autopsy. Anderson recently resigned from the Medical Examiner's Office after a dispute with county officials.

Moler said, "It's clear that his heart stopped during his arrest, but we want to find out what happened to him and what caused it to stop."

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