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$145,000 Settlement for Fatal Beating of Texas Prisoner

In 1999, defendants settled for $145,000 in a lawsuit brought by the estate and family of a Texas prisoner who was brutally beaten by guards and restrained in a position that caused fatal asphyxiation. Gary Lee Crensaw was serving a 45-year sentence at TDCJ*s Robertson Unit on January 25, 1997, when he was allegedly assaulted by guards without prior warning. Plaintiffs alleged guard Helms beat Crenshaw with a steel bar, cracking his skull, and guard Bradley Johnson punched him in the body while holding his head down and lifting his arms, causing positional asphyxia. Witnesses said the sound of the beating and Crenshaw pleading for his life could be heard throughout that section of the prison. The beating continued after Crenshaw lost consciousness. He was then hog-tied and carried to the infirmary—which was closed—where he was dumped on the floor.

Sgt. Monte Baker ordered the scene of the beating and blood trail to the infirmary cleaned up, allegedly to hide evidence and contaminate the scene. The guards also allegedly manipulated the videotape of the incident to remove incriminating portions.

Crenshaw died of asphyxia on the floor of the unoccupied infirmary the next day, about 30 hours after the beating started. Crenshaw's family and estate filed a civil rights suit in federal court which defendants settled in mediation for $145,000 on September 6, 1999. Attorneys Bobbie Edmonds and Anthony Gulley received $52,417 in fees and expenses; Lisa Ann Courtney, Crenshaw's common-law wife, received $15,000; a daughter and two sons received a total of $52,533; the parents received $11,000; the estate received $6,500, and $7,550 were paid in guardian ad litem fees.

Helms, Johnson and Baker were indicted on manslaughter charges for restricting Crenshaw's breathing through the application of pressure and manipulation of his extremities, but Judge Quay Parker quashed the indictments on the grounds that they were too vague. The Jones County grand jury refused to indict them a second time.

See: Courtney v. State of Texas, U.S.D.C.-N.D.Tex., Case No. 1:97-CV-0149-C.

Additional sources: The Blue Sheet of West Texas; VerdictSearch Texas

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Related legal case

Courtney v. State of Texas