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Daughter of Texas Prisoner Who Died from Asthma Attack Receives Settlement

by Christopher Zoukis

C.P., the minor daughter of a Texas prisoner who died after suffering an asthma attack while in prison, agreed to a settlement with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and a prison guard, the terms of which were unreported.

     Shermaine Peterson, who suffered from chronic asthma, was a prisoner within the TDCJ system. He had received medical treatment at the Texas Tech University Health Services Center, but they allegedly had not provided him with a steady supply of inhalers. While TDCJ was aware of Peterson's condition, they allegedly ignored it by placing him in a cell with inadequate ventilation. After Peterson began to have trouble breathing, his cellmate repeatedly called for help. Over an hour passed before staff responded, and Peterson suffocated to death while waiting to be treated.

     On October 8, 2009, Gail O'Neil filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Peterson's daughter, C.P. Originally filed in the Western District of Texas, the case was transferred to the Northern District on January 4, 2010. O'Neil alleged that the TDCJ and the University Health Center, as well as several prison guards and officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when they deprived Peterson of adequate accommodation and treatment. O'Neil also alleged that by failing to provide timely and necessary medical care, they violated Peterson's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

     Prior to trial, Michael Savers, executive director of TDCJ Brad Livingston, Major Robin Pena, Captain Kevin Andis, Warden Joe S. Nunn and prison guard Hugo Orozco were removed as defendants. Dr. Dhirajlal Patel, M.D., was granted summary judgment. A settlement, however, was reached with TDCJ and prison guard John Heuerman, Jr.

     The trial that proceeded against the remaining defendant, the University Health Center, resulted in a jury finding in its favor on May 19, 2011, after the court was notified that the settlement was fully approved.

See: O'Neil v. Texas Tech Health Services Center, et al., United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Case No. 2:10-cv-00003-J-BB (Nov. 21, 2011)

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Related legal case

O'Neil v. Texas Tech Health Services Center, et al.