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$350,000 Settlement in Suit over Texas Jail Prisoner's Murder

On August 21, 2014, Tarrant County, Texas settled for $350,000 a lawsuit brought under the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by the sister and administrator of the estate of deceased Tarrant County Jail prisoner Jonathan William Holden.

The lawsuit alleged that Holden, 30, was booked into the jail on burglary charges. Eleven days later – after having been diagnosed by jail doctors as having schizophrenia and mental impairment and recommended for placement in a single occupancy cell in a unit for low- and medium-risk prisoners – he was transferred to a maximum-security unit. Three days later, he was murdered by Steve Nelson, a prisoner who was being held on first-degree murder charges and had a history of assaulting other prisoners.

According to the unrefuted testimony of a prisoner produced by prosecutors at Nelson's murder trial, Nelson was allowed out of his cell when the other prisoners on the cell block were locked in their cells. During one such period, Nelson used a broom to prod Holden until he came to the bars. Nelson then grabbed Holden, wrapped a towel around his neck and left him hanging from the bars where his body was later discovered by jail staff.

Aided by attorneys Kervyn B. Altaffer, Jr. of Dallas, William P. Desmond and Megan Hassan of Houston, and James C. Harrington and Brian R. McGivern of the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, Holden's sister, Jennifer Ciravolo, filed a lawsuit against Tarrant County, the sheriff and jail officials in federal court alleging violations of Holden's constitutional rights and the ADA. They maintained that Holden – who had been arrested for a non-violent offense and was physically and mentally debilitated – should not have been placed in maximum security with violent prisoners. This, they maintained, was cruel and unusual punishment and negligent failure to protect from harm. Tarrant County decided to settle the suit for $350,000. See: Ciravolo v. Tarrant County, U.S.D.C. N.D.TX, Case No. 4:14-cv-00200-A.

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Related legal case

Ciravolo v. Tarrant County