Trapped janitor’s calls for help unheard for days after being locked in cell, lawsuit says
A 72-year-old woman who officials said became trapped for days while cleaning a holding cell at a courthouse is suing the company in charge of security at the court, Florida court records show.
Libia Vargas De Dinas, a contracted janitorial worker, became trapped in a cell at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando during her Friday night shift on Jan. 27, according to a report from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. De Dinas, who is “insulin dependent”, was stuck in the cell from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following Monday without food or her medication, her lawsuit says.
De Dinas started her shift at 5 p.m. on Jan. 27, according to the complaint, which was filed in Orange County on March 22.
Employees of Allied Universal Technology Services were in charge of security at the courthouse that day and were responsible for checking in and checking out members of the cleaning crew, the complaint says. The process for checking in and out included cleaning crew members handing their driver’s licenses to security staff before being given keys to various parts of the courthouse.
De Dinas checked in with Allied Universal employees at the start of her shift and gave them her driver’s license, the complaint says. Security personnel then gave her the keys for the area of the courthouse that she was assigned to clean.
While cleaning a holding cell on the building’s 23rd floor, the door shut behind her, according to the sheriff’s office report. She was unable to open the door, and her cellphone was on her cleaning cart, which was outside in the hallway.
At 10 p.m. that night, the rest of people cleaning the courthouse checked out and gave their keys back to Allied Universal security personnel, the complaint says. The security employees returned the driver’s licenses to each of the cleaning crew members except for De Dinas, the complaint says.
De Dinas’ shift was also scheduled to end at 10 p.m., according to the lawsuit.
“It wasn’t until Monday morning, January 30, 2023 that a sheriff’s deputy heard (De Dinas’) cries for help,” the complaint says. “He unlocked the door and freed (De Dinas) from the holding cell.”
Allied Universal Technology Services employees were in charge of security at the courthouse all weekend, the complaint says. The courthouse is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to its website.
In February, a spokesperson for Allied Universal said in a statement that it was investigating the incident.
“At the Orange County Courthouse, Allied Universal security professionals did not have access to certain designated areas, including where the incident occurred,” the statement says. “We provide security services that include access control, screening, patrols, monitoring and reporting. After the unfortunate incident, Orange County has requested for us to provide security in more areas, including where the incident occurred.”
The company told McClatchy News it could not comment on the lawsuit.
Employees with the security company had a responsibility to ensure that each member of the cleaning crew signed out at the end of his or her shift and returned the courthouse keys, the complaint says. Security personnel also had a responsibility to return the cleaning crew members’ driver’s licenses they were given at check-in.
Allied Universal did not hire qualified security personnel, properly train its employees on security services, maintain policies and procedures on how security services should be carried out or properly supervise employees to make sure they were completing all tasks, according to the lawsuit.
Because the company didn’t follow its duties, De Dinas has suffered “disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment, lost wages” and other issues, the complaint says.
De Dinas is still afraid of being in enclosed spaces and often leaves doors open, especially at night, Bill McAfee, one of her attorneys, told McClatchy News.
“To have this happen to her, it’s just really unforgivable,” he said.
Lawyers are seeking a judgment against Allied Universal for damages and costs, the complaint says.
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