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Dallas, Texas, Jail Pays $950,000 for Neglecting Mentally Ill Prisoners

On February 20, 2007, the Dallas County, Texas, Jail agreed to pay $950,000 for its negligent mistreatment of three mentally ill individuals, one of whom died, while imprisoned at the jail awaiting competency hearings.

In 2004, James Monroe Mims, a man in his 50s, was sent from the state mental hospital to the Dallas County Jail to attend a competency hearing.
While awaiting the hearing, Mims, who had lived at the state hospital since the 1970s after he was found incompetent for the kidnapping and attempted murder of a police officer, was allegedly denied psychotropic medications. Mims's attorney alleged at trial that his client went from a man who was already "out of touch with reality" to a man who could not feed or dress himself or even stand. Mims's attorney further noted that the water in his client's cell had been cut off for days after he flooded the cell and that Mims was lost in the jail for 2 months because he did not receive a timely competency hearing. The Dallas County Jail holds more than 9,000 prisoners.

In 2003, Kennedy Nickerson, 31, was also in the jail awaiting a competency hearing. A judge determined that, not only was Nickerson incompetent to stand trial on drug possession charges, but that he would never again regain his competency. Rather than being transferred to a mental hospital as state law requires, however, Nickerson was mistakenly released from the jail. He was found five days later on the side of a highway lying in his own excrement after apparently suffering seizures.

In 2002 Clarence Lee Grant, 51, who had previously been found incompetent to stand trial for arson, was transferred to the jail from the state mental institution for a competency hearing. At the time of his transfer Grant was being treated for schizophrenia, seizure disorders, and hypertension. At the jail Grant's medication was confiscated. His condition declined until he died on February 1, 2002, from lack of medication.

Mims's guardian, the next friend of Nickerson, the administratrix of Grant's estate, and Advocacy, Inc., a mental health advocacy group, sued the jail in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas contending that it had a pattern and practice of neglecting prisoners and that the jail had for many years not provided prisoners appropriate mental health and medical services. Attorneys for the plaintiffs further contended that the jail was negligent in contracting with the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston (UTMB) to provide medical services at the jail in light of UTMB's well-known difficulties in providing appropriate mental health services. (UTMB is also responsible for providing medical care to 90% of Texas state prisoners.)

Dallas County Sued UTMB contending it was responsible for the poor mental health care afforded the plaintiffs, but that lawsuit was dismissed with the Court holding that UTMB was entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity.
The final outcome was that Dallas County settled with the plaintiffs for a total of $950,000: $540,000 to Mims for pain and suffering; $270,000 to Grant's estate; and $140,000 to Nickerson.

The Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys David Finn of Millner & Finn in Dallas, TX; and Mark A. Haney and Jeff Kobs, both of Kobs, Haney & Hundley in Fort Worth, Texas. See: Mims v. Dallas County, USDC ND TX, Case No. 3-04-CV-2754.

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Related legal case

Mims v. Dallas County