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Texas County Pays Prisoner’s Family $214,500 for Wrongful Death

Texas County Pays Prisoner’s Family $214,500 for Wrongful Death

For two days in August 2011, Shawn Appell beat his head against a wall in his cell at the Llano County, Texas jail as guards Scottie Bryan Scoggins and Donny Stewart listened to the sounds of his self-inflicted injuries but did nothing to stop him.

On August 5, Shawn was transported from the jail to Scott & White Hospital in Llano where he received treatment for a forehead laceration. When asked what happened, he told hospital staff, “Jesus beat the shit out of me. I got demons in my head.”

Recognizing that Shawn suffered from schizophrenia, the hospital conveyed that information to the Llano County Sheriff’s Office. But when he returned to the jail nothing was done when he resumed beating his head against the window in a padded cell. On August 6, 2011, Shawn, 45, was found dead; the cause of death was blunt force trauma to his head.

In November 2012, Shawn’s mother, Shirley Appell, filed a § 1983 civil rights lawsuit against Stewart, Scoggins, Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn and the county itself. The suit alleged that the defendants “did not intervene to protect [Shawn] from himself.”

“Defendants knew they had the means and opportunity to stop Shawn from hurting himself, including many simple things such as putting him in a helmet, restraining him, or simply taking him back to the hospital,” the complaint stated. “Stewart and Scoggins were on duty during the period Shawn was slowly killing himself, but deliberately took no action to help him even though they could hear him banging his head against the wall.”

The suit also pointed out that this was not the first time the Llano County jail had been negligent regarding the care of prisoners. After prisoner John Jensen was found hanging in a shower stall on May 10, 2009, the jail was put on notice that its “policies and practices for preventing inmate self-injury were inadequate.”

Shawn Appell had been in the jail since April 2011, charged with driving his vehicle into a garage door. During that time he received psychotropic medication from the facility’s medical staff. He was also a veteran who had served in the Air Force.

After a short period of arbitration, on June 20, 2013 the county agreed to pay $212,500 in damages and $2,000 in court costs to settle the case. County officials also agreed to require jailers to take suicide prevention classes, provide training in the use of restraint chairs and maintain video footage from the jail’s security cameras for a minimum of thirty days.

Asked about the resolution of the case, Llano County judge Wayne Brascom called Shawn’s death “unfortunate” and said the settlement was the most cost effective way for the county to end the lawsuit. “My opinion is that I feel like what we did was to the benefit of our citizens financially. It also closes this issue.”

Following the settlement, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the case in March 2014. Shirley Appell was represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project and Austin attorney Scott Medlock with Edwards Law. See: Appell v. Stewart, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Texas), Case No. 1:12-cv-01027-SS.

Jail guards Scoggins and Stewart were indicted by the Llano grand jury for felony injury to a disabled person by omission, and pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges in May 2013. Scoggins received a year in jail, suspended to probation, and had to serve 60 days and perform 60 hours of community service; Stewart was also sentenced to one year in jail, suspended to probation, and ordered to serve 26 days and do 200 hours of community service. Further, they both surrendered their state jailer certificates.

At the time of Appell’s death, the Llano County Jail was certified as being in compliance with standards set by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

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Related legal case

Appell v. Stewart