Mother wants answers after special needs daughter dies in Escambia Co. Jail

Escambia County

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A mother’s call for help in Northwest Florida ended with her daughter being arrested, and she passed away on Nov. 28 while in the Escambia County Jail.

“I don’t want anyone else’s child to go through this,” Melania Smith said. “I want them to be held accountable.”

Smith says her 20-year-old daughter, Alia Wardell, threw away her own medication while at home, so Smith called 911. Wardell needed it to stay alive because of brain damage sustained during surgery to remove a tumor.

“When she was on her meds, she was great,” Smith said. “That’s why usually she would go in under a Baker Act, get her medications, adjustments if needed, then I’d go pick her up.”

Wardell was taken to West Florida Hospital under the Baker Act. While there, sheriff’s deputies say Alia assaulted five nurses by kicking and spitting on them. When she left the hospital, she was arrested and taken to the Escambia County Jail.

“I called them four times before I actually got ahold of a nurse,” Smith said. “I went over every medication, every milligram, explained what the medications were for.”

Smith said her daughter was never given medication inside the jail and she passed away less than a week after her arrest.

“They said the inmates go through an intake process,” she said. “At that time, if they are critically ill then they’re put in the infirmary. Why didn’t that happen?”

Smith said there are a lot of red flags and she just wants answers. Wardell would’ve turned 21 this past Sunday, but now her mom is laying her to rest this Friday.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said. “I’m still numb. Having to pick out an outfit for your daughter’s funeral is something I never thought I would ever have to go through.”

WKRG News 5 reached out to the county to try to get some answers but received this statement:
“This is an ongoing investigation pending the medical examiner’s report. The county has no further comment at this time.”

In 2021, there have been four inmates who passed away while hospitalized and two who died inside the jail, according to an Escambia County spokesperson.

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