By Juan Ortega
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — An inmate found dead at Broward's Main Jail did not commit suicide, and had been hospitalized earlier this year for health problems, officials and relatives said Monday.
But officials said it is still too early to tell whether Jeffrey Willis, 41, died from natural causes or was killed Thursday while in custody.
The Broward Medical Examiner's Office has conducted an autopsy, but the cause of death is still under investigation, said Dani Moschella, a spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff's Office.
Since Jan. 1, three other inmates at the jail have committed suicide by hanging, according to records from the medical examiner.
A Fort Lauderdale police officer found Willis sitting with an unopened beer can on Wednesday night in a back lot in the 1300 block of Northwest Sixth Street, an arrest report said.
When police asked him to leave the property, he stood up, assumed a fighting stance and cursed at the officer, telling him he wasn't leaving.
The officer then "took Willis down" and arrested him on charges of trespassing and resisting without violence, the arrest report said. Willis was logged into Broward's main jail at 10:12 p.m.
Less than 24 hours after Willis was jailed, a sheriff's detention deputy found him unresponsive in his cell at 7:06 p.m. Thursday. He was the sole occupant, the Sheriff's Office said.
Units from Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue responded and tried to revive him, to no avail.
Moschella said she did not have information about how investigators had ruled out suicide.
Willis, a Vermont native,was arrested several times in Florida. In 2004, he completed a two-year sentence at Apalachee Correctional Institution near Tallahassee for grand theft, trafficking in stolen property and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, state records show.
After release, he lived in Ormond Beach, where he completed his probation in 2005, records show.
His death prompted his aunt, Carol Snow, 56, of Vermont, to question if Broward authorities had done all they could to ensure his well-being.
"If he appeared to be in ill health when he was arrested, I certainly hope that the law enforcement authorities would have taken that seriously," Snow said. "He was well loved by his family and will be missed."
Willis had "health challenges" and was hospitalized recently in the Daytona Beach area, Snow said. She didn't elaborate about his condition.