Family of inmate who died at Nacogdoches County Jail files $30M lawsuit

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Family members of the 53-year-old woman who died as a result of dehydration while she was an inmate at the Nacogdoches County Jail in December 2011 have filed a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit against the county, the county judge, the sheriff, and two jail employees.

The lawsuit's complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of Texas on Nov. 29. East Texas News obtained a copy of the lawsuit's complaint Tuesday morning. The lawsuit lists County Judge Joe English, Sheriff Bridges, Lt. Elizabeth Ann Owens, and Sgt. Danny Ray Russell as defendants in the case.

"On the date of her detention, Edwinta Deckard, deceased, complained of dehydration including acute diarrhea," the complaint states. "From that time on, the defendants were responsible for a course of conduct which was willful, wanton, and criminal negligent and so blatantly inappropriate as to evidence intentional maltreatment, and was directly responsible for the death of Edwinta Deckard."

Edwinta Deckard, 53, died at the Nacogdoches County Jail in December 2011. Deckard was booked into the jail on Dec. 2 on misdemeanor theft charges. She became ill on Dec. 4, according to a previous report, and taken to the hospital after 6 a.m., where she died.

In a previous East Texas News story, former sheriff Tomas Kerss said an autopsy ruled that Deckard died of natural causes and dehydration.

According to the lawsuit's complaint, Deckard told the jail's staff about her history of illness when she was booked into the Nacogdoches County Jail, which is located at 2306 Douglass Road.

While Deckard was in custody, she became severely ill. Deckard and several other inmates made "numerous requests over an extended period of time to the prison guards that [she] was seriously ill" and needed immediate medical attention, the lawsuit's complaint alleges.

"Witnesses including Robin Griffin stated that 'women buzzed Nacogdoches County jailers from Saturday evening to Monday morning asking for medical help for Edwinta Deckard,'" the complaint states.

The complaint alleges that the repeated pleas for Deckard to receive emergency medical treatment were ignored, and "as a direct and proximate result of such act, Edwinta Deckard was never treated and died of medical conditions resulting from lack of medical care on Dec. 5, 2011," the lawsuit's complaint alleges.

"Although the deceased was in serious condition for days before she died, no doctor was on duty, nor was any doctor called to treat her," the lawsuit's complaint states. "There was a deliberate indifference to the deceased repeated cries for essential treatment."

The lawsuit also alleges that the jail's treatment of Deckard violated the due process clause and equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that the jail's staff refusal to provide medical treatment to her "constituted cruel and unusual punishment" and violated the Eighth and 14th Amendments.

East Texas interviewed Griffin in June 2012. At one point, Griffin said Russell pulled a mattress off the bunk onto the floor and made Deckard lay there. Griffin said after she woke up from a brief nap she found Deckard across the tank, off the mattress, on the bare floor

Griffin, contended she and other women inmates "begged jailers to call an ambulance."

"Around 5:30 p.m., this is Sunday, they came, one of the jailers came in, they took her blood pressure. Her blood pressure was 65 over 46 and when they took her blood pressure and they still wouldn't take her to the emergency room I started crying," Griffin said.

She recalled what happened toward the end.

"I kept saying Edwinta wake up, Edwinta wake up. And she still didn't move. It was just terrible because she (a jailer) lifted her up and she fell back down. I said, 'Don't do her like that,' because she was lifeless at this time. She didn't have no life in her body," Griffin recalled.

After a Nacogdoches County grand jury indicted them on state-jail felony charges of state-jail felony criminally negligent homicide, Owens and Russell turned themselves in at the jail on June 25, 2012. Each one posted a bail of $4,000 and was released, according to a previous East Texas News story.

However, Visiting Judge Guy Griffin signed an order to quash the indictments against Owens and Russell on Aug. 7, 2012, essentially ending the prosecution of the criminally negligent homicide case that stemmed from Deckard's death.

The indictment stated they "did then and there by criminal negligence, cause the death of an individual, Edwinta Deckard, by failing to provide appropriate medical care."

Griffin stepped in for Judge Campbell Cox, who recused himself from the case.

The attorneys for Owens and Russell filed the motion to quash. The prosecution did not oppose the motion.

District Attorney Nicole LoStracco explained a quash is not the same as a dismissal. The defendants can be re-indicted, but LoStracco said there will be no more investigation into the case, unless new evidence is presented.

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