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Deaths and Beatings Rampant in Texas' Nueces County Jail

Nueces County Jail in Corpus Christi Texas has become a regular source of dead and beaten prisoners. Ten prisoners have died in the jail between 1996 and 2000. Two cases have already cost the county $2 million and three more wrongful death suits are still pending.

$900,000 Paid in Restraint Chair Death

The survivors of Bobby Stuart were awarded $900,000 after he was abused and beaten to death by Nueces County jail guards. On August 18, 1999 Stuart was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication and criminal mischief. By the next day he was dead. Stuart was beaten and sprayed with pepper spray from the moment he was removed from the police car even though he was handcuffed. Once inside the jail his legs were shackled and he was thrown into a restraint chair and bound so tightly he lost consciousness.

From the time he arrived at the jail Stuart complained of severe irritation from the pepper spray in his eyes. However, once he was strapped into the restraint chair he was only given a cursory examination by the nurse who administered no treatment.

Robert Knowles, an ex-administrator for the Dallas Sheriff's Department, and a medical school dropout, was deposed as an expert witness in restraint chair procedure for the jail. James B. Ragan, attorney for the Stuart family, questioned Knowles.

In a valiant effort to defend the guards, Knowles insisted that Stuart was shackled for his own protection and for the safety of the guards. Yet a video revealed that Stuart was not struggling when he was initially removed from the police car or while he was being placed in the restraint chair.

Under intense questioning Knowles admitted that Stuart's restraints should have been checked every 15 minutes and should have provided enough space to insert at least one finger. What the video showed was one guard standing on the chair over Stuart using his weight as leverage to tighten the seatbelt-like restraints.

Almost immediately Stuart lost consciousness. Guards then abandoned him in the chair for over an hour. When they finally returned to check on him, Stuart was dead. Knowles reluctantly testified that according to jail policy Stuart should have been immediately released from the chair and given emergency treatment as soon as he lost consciousness. The case settled on July 16, 2001, with the county agreeing to pay Stuart's family $900,000. See: Stuart v. Nueces County, USDC SD TX, Case No. C-99-025.

$1.1 Million Paid in Second

Restraint Chair Death

On August 20, 2002 the survivors of Andrew Sokolinski received $1.1 million in an out of court settlement with Nueces County. $200,000 of that amount was attorney fees.

In 1997, Andrew Sokolinski, a resident of Boston, was visiting his sister in Nueces County when he was arrested for possession of some marijuana cigarettes. According to testimony, on August 12 1997, Sokolinski was beaten, then strapped in the restraining chair and sprayed repeatedly with pepper spray. The "OC" brand of pepper spray used on the helpless Sokolinski is the same kind used to disperse large crowds of people. He was then returned to his cell where the beatings continued until he died.

During the trial pictures of Sokolinski revealed bruises and lumps covering his entire body, a broken arm, and a broken bone that had almost pushed through the skin. The pictures of his mutilated body were so graphic that several female jurors were reduced to tears.

Attorney Tyner Little headed a group of county attorneys who quickly agreed to a settlement when it was revealed that they had withheld the identity of an eyewitness to Sokolinski's beating. Judge Janice Graham Jack found that county attorneys Walter Bryan, Phillip McKinney, Angelica Barrera, and Little had acted in bad faith and complicity in a "cover-up." Shortly after the payment, Little was terminated. No one connects his termination with the settlement but the $1.1 million was paid by the taxpayers since the county was self-insured at the time. See: Sokolinski v. Nueces County Texas, USDC SD TX, Case No. C-99-025. Christopher J. Gale and Mark Anthony Sanchez were the plaintiff's attorneys.

More Abuse

On October 6, 2000 Nueces County jail guards brutally beat Christopher Sanchez on his arms, legs and back while he was handcuffed. They slammed his head against a cement wall and choked him. All this happened as Sanchez, who has a debilitating medical infirmity, was being processed into a medical unit. On May 9, 2001, Sanchez received a $45,000 settlement. See: Sanchez v. Nueces County Texas, USDC SD TX, Case No. 3-00-468.

Video cameras captured Nueces County jail guard Charles Kaufman choking, beating and hitting prisoner Ralph Torres in the head while he was already restrained. On July 16, 2001, Kaufman was convicted and sentenced to six months in county jail and ten years probation by District Judge Robert Blackmon.

"What I saw was a brutal beating of a prisoner that didn't deserve it. This kind of activity is inexplicable," Blackmon said. The judge also expressed concern that the guards who stood around and-watched Kaufmann assault Torres did nothing to stop him. "I am not aware that the sheriff has taken actions against any of these others," he said.

Lieutenant Thomas Bailey was indicted by the grand jury, along with Kaufman. He was later acquitted on charges of official oppression but was fired anyways.

On January 24, 2001, Torres settled a civil rights suit against the jail stemming from the assault for $75,000.

More Deaths

Nueces county is also being sued by the families of George Jackson, Edward Charles Underwood, and Jose Orlando Sanchez-Ortiz.

On November 24, 2001 George Jackson died after he allegedly swallowed two golf ball-sized rocks of crack cocaine and became comatose shortly after he arrived at the jail. His family is suing the county and jail officials for negligence.

The family of Edward Charles Underwood is suing the county for an unspecified amount of damages after Underwood died of pneumonia while in custody in 1995. Underwood's attorney, Richard W. Rogers III, charged the county with negligence, neglect and improper medical care.

Charges of negligence against the county are also pending in the case of Jose Orlando Sanchez-Ortiz who died while in custody. Jail officials claim Sanchez-Ortiz committed suicide.

County Abandoned by Insurer

The $900,000 for Stuart's death was covered by Coregis Insurance Co. of which the county paid a $50,000 deductible. Immediately after the settlement Coregis terminated the policy stating, "We are non-renewing due to-claims and loss experience.

So untenable is the position of Nueces County Jail that the only insurance they can get is from the Texas Association of Counties at a cost of $680,000 annually, a two thousand nine-hundred percent increase over the $23,000 yearly premium of Coregis.

At least one person, however, is attempting to clean up the county's image. Whoever it is took the initiative to erase over an hour of evidence from the Bobby Stuart video tape, depicting Stuart being gassed, beaten and restrained to death.

Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times

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Related legal cases

Sokolinski v. Nueces County Texas

Stuart v. Nueces County

Sanchez v. Nueces County Texas

Case name unknown

Estate of Sokolinski v. Nueces County