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Mother of Prisoner Who Died at Texarkana Jail Challenges $200,000 Settlement; Nurse Pleads Guilty

by Matthew Clarke

On November 11, 2017, notice of a $200,000 settlement was filed in a federal lawsuit over the death of a diabetic Texarkana jail prisoner who died after a nurse ignored her repeated requests for a blood sugar test. Soon thereafter the mother of the prisoner filed a motion to void the settlement; meanwhile, the former jail nurse pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.

As previously reported in PLN, Morgan Angerbauer, 20, a severe diabetic, was arrested for technical probation violations and booked into the Bi-State Jail, a facility that serves the two states and four counties that make up Texarkana. A blood sugar test performed during booking showed she had abnormally elevated blood sugar levels.

Believing something was wrong with her blood sugar two days later, Angerbauer began requesting another test. Licensed Vocational Nurse Brittany Danae Johnson, 27, refused to administer the test and ignored Angerbauer’s repeated requests and hours of banging on her observation cell door about 20 feet from the nurse’s station.

Angerbauer was discovered unconscious on the floor of her cell on June 30, 2016. Johnson did not immediately call for paramedics. Instead, unable to obtain a numerical reading on the jail’s glucose monitor – presumably because it was too high for the machine’s range – she forced glucose into Angerbauer’s mouth, raising her blood sugar to a fatal level. An autopsy showed Angerbauer’s blood sugar was 813; the normal range is 70 to 120. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.26].

Miller County Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black initially filed a misdemeanor negligent homicide charge against Johnson. However, after Johnson told a Texarkana, Arkansas police investigator that she would never get anything done if she provided treatment to prisoners like Angerbauer when they requested it, the charge was upgraded to felony manslaughter. Johnson pleaded guilty in November 2017 to the negligent homicide charge, after the court rejected her no contest plea. She was sentenced to six months in jail with 90 days suspended, and her nursing license was suspended for one year.

“Now she’s on the other side of those bars and she will have to depend on someone for all of her needs,” said Angerbauer’s mother, Jennifer Houser. “It’s pure justice to us.”

Houser hired Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against LaSalle Corrections, the private prison company that operates the jail. Houser was initially named administrator of her daughter’s estate. Later, Campbell had attorney Victoria Leigh replace Houser as administrator; Campbell then settled the case for $200,000.

Houser complained that Campbell had her removed as administrator without her knowledge or consent, and settled the suit against her wishes. She said she did not know Campbell before he contacted her on Facebook the day after her daughter died. Neither Houser, Angerbauer’s father nor her siblings were named as individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“I’m not required to consult [Houser],” Campbell said. “I explained to her that Victoria would represent the estate and be involved in the settlement discussions. I don’t represent [Houser]. I represent the estate.”

Campbell filed a motion with the probate court overseeing Angerbauer’s affairs, seeking 40 percent of the settlement and costs and fees associated with the lawsuit.

Houser then hired Texarkana attorney David Carter, who filed a motion accusing Campbell of “agreeing to settle without input from Angerbauer’s family, failing to perform critical legal work and unethical conduct.” He asked the judge to reinstate Houser as special administrator in the case and vacate the order approving the settlement.

The probate court vacated its approval of the settlement on March 28, 2018, finding it was “not in the best interests of the Estate of Morgan Angerbauer.” The case remains pending in federal court. See: Houser v. LaSalle Management Company, LLC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Texas), Case No. 5:16-cv-00129-RWS. 



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Related legal case

Houser v. LaSalle Management Company, LLC