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Texas Prisoner Wins $130,000 from Jail for Poor Care, Beatings

A Texas state prisoner won $130,000 in damages after it was shown that he was denied medical care and not protected from violent prisoners while held at Williamson County Jail near Austin.

Martin DiCarlo, 39, filed suit in U.S. District Court under 42 USC §1983 where he alleged that in early 1997 he received inadequate medical care while in jail. After another prisoner broke his jaw, DiCarlo was sent to Saint David's hospital for surgery. Following surgery, his jaw was packed with gauze and wired shut. He was then returned to Williamson County Jail.

Although two post-operative appointments at the hospital were scheduled, the jail failed to send DiCarlo to either. A few days after surgery, he was shipped to the Texas prison system with the gauze and wires still in place. Jail workers failed to inform the prison system staff that DiCarlo required follow-up care.

After arriving at state prison, DiCarlo's requests for post-operative care were ignored until he woke up a few weeks later in a pool of blood with the rotting gauze still packed in his jaw. Two additional surgeries were then required to repair the damage and DiCarlo lost several teeth.

DiCarlo also complained that Robert Baker, a former jail captain, routinely sent troublesome prisoners to a special cellblock, the "captain's tank," which housed assaultive prisoners who took pleasure from beating those who had filed grievances or complained about jail conditions. In November 1996 after filing a grievance asking for more access to the jail's law library, DiCarlo was sent to the captain's tank where he was assaulted and had his food stolen by other prisoners.

DiCarlo's case went to trial in November 2001. When defense counsel moved to dismiss saying there was no factual basis for DiCarlo's claims, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks denied the motion saying, "Either this was the most negligently run jail in the state or there's ample evidence for a judgment against all defendants."

A five-person jury agreed and awarded DiCarlo $130,000 in actual and punitive damages. DiCarlo may have scant opportunity to enjoy his new wealth, however .A repeat offender with a dismal history of prior felonies, he is serving a life sentence at Texas' Retrieve State Prison after being convicted of firearms, burglary, and theft charges. See DiCarlo v Richards , USDC No. A-99-CA-053-SS (WD TX 2001).

Sources: Austin American-Statesman ; correspondence with DiCarlo; deposition of Nelda Baker (former jail nurse); correspondence from David Brenner (DiCarlo's counsel).

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Related legal case

DiCarlo v. Richards