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Parents Must Clarify Claims Against Sheriff

TAMPA (CN) - The parents of a 5-year-old who died in a sheriff's custody after being removed from her home must clarify their claims, a federal judge ruled.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri took Elizabeth Holder from her home in January 2013, based on allegations that her parents failed to supervise her properly.

While Elizabeth was in foster care, she died from a swollen throat due to acute tonsillitis.

Florida law requires authorities to have children examined by a doctor within 72 hours of involuntarily removing them from their homes.

Gualtieri failed to take the girl to a doctor over the eight days she spent in his custody, the parents claimed in a 2014 federal complaint. Elizabeth's tonsillitis could have been diagnosed and successfully treated had she received medical attention promptly, the parents claimed.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington dismissed the constitutional violations and wrongful death claims last week, noting that the parents failed to clarify if they were suing Gualtieri in his official or individual capacity.

"The court recognizes that plaintiffs intend to 'flesh out during this proceeding in which capacity the sheriff acted when he deliberately ignored the statutory medical assessment requirement for Elizabeth Holder,'" Covington wrote in the Jan. 27 ruling.

However, the complaint must specify as to each count whether Gualtieri is allegedly liable in his individual capacity or as county sheriff, according to the ruling.

Covington said the couple may file an amended complaint by Feb. 13.

The case was scheduled for mediation for January 2016, according to a notice issued Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said she cannot discuss pending litigation.

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