MIAMI, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Police in Hollywood, Florida, said on Monday they would unveil charges stemming from a criminal investigation of the deaths of a dozen nursing home patients in the sweltering heat of a post-hurricane power outage two years ago.
Defense attorneys said arrest warrants were issued on Sunday for four employees of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, who are expected to be accused of wrongdoing in the 12 deaths. The Broward County coroner has ruled them as homicides.
Hollywood police declined to release details of the case, but said Chief Chris O’Brien and law enforcement officials would announce the charges on Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST.
The four nursing home workers had been expected to surrender to police on Monday to face criminal charges in the deaths, which came after patients were left with little or no air-conditioning after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017.
Two of the defendants, the nursing home’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, and the charge nurse on duty at the time, Sergo Collin, were expected to be booked on 12 counts of manslaughter, according to their lead attorney, David Frankel.
The other defendants, both nurses, are expected to face less-serious charges, he said. One was working as a contract employee for the nursing home at the time.
Defense lawyers said their clients were innocent of criminal wrongdoing.
“We believe that when the evidence comes out, it will show that the staff at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was dedicated to their roles as caretakers and did everything they could under the emergency-disaster circumstances after the hurricane,” Frankel said.
The deaths stirred an outcry over what was seen by some as a preventable tragedy and raised worries about the vulnerability of Florida’s large elderly population amid widespread power outages after a storm.
“The real crime is that the state is looking to blame selfless care givers,” said attorney Ilham Soffan, who represents the contract nurse.
The deaths have been the subject of a criminal investigation since they were first reported in the immediate aftermath ofHurricane Irma, which was blamed for killing more than 80 people in the Caribbean and on the U.S. mainland in September 2017.
City officials said the nursing home continued to operate with little or no air conditioning after the storm knocked out its electricity, and daytime temperatures in the Miami area rose to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).
State authorities said nursing home managers placed eightportable air coolers throughout the building and fans inhallways.
The facility was finally evacuated, under conditions workersat the time described as chaotic, when four residents were founddead three days after the storm made landfall.
Four more died at or en route to a nearby hospital, and fourothers ultimately succumbed to the effects of heat exposure,bringing the death toll to 12.
Frankel said the majority of those who died had been underhospice care or otherwise gravely ill.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler, Clarence Fernandez and Dan Grebler)