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Lawsuit Alleges Texas County Jailers Beat, Paralyzed Prisoner

by Matthew Clarke

A lawsuit filed in federal district court alleges guards at the jail in Milam County, Texas beat a compliant prisoner without any reason, causing him to become paralyzed, then “released” him while he was in the hospital so the jail wouldn’t have to pay his medical bills.

John L. Robertson, 41, was on probation for an assault charge when he asked his probation officer to help him find treatment for a drug problem. On June 20, 2016, he voluntarily entered the Milam County jail to await transfer to a drug treatment facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The transfer never happened.

According to court documents, on July 14, jailer Jonathan Mendoza ordered the prisoners in Robertson’s cell to go to the recreation yard. Some of the younger prisoners were delaying and saying they didn’t want to go, so Robertson told them they should stop wasting time and just do what they were told. Mendoza cursed at Robertson, saying he did not want him telling anyone else what to do.

After the prisoners returned from rec, Mendoza and jailers Cindy McBee and Joshua Hughes came to the cell. Mendoza cursed and threatened Robertson while he was handcuffed, then dragged him down a hallway despite the fact that Robertson was cooperating, nonconfrontational and willing to walk. While he was being dragged, McBee allegedly kept a Taser pointed at Robertson’s face and threatened him.

Robertson was taken to a different cell. While he was still handcuffed, compliant and prone on the floor, Mendoza allegedly knee-dropped his full weight on Robertson’s back multiple times, causing him severe pain. He then turned Robertson’s head to one side and applied his full weight to it, breaking one of his teeth.

Robertson’s repeated requests for medical attention were ignored and allegedly prompted the three jailers to return and drag him to another cell with feces-covered walls, where they stripped him and left him without medical treatment. He was eventually given a urine-soaked smock too small for him to wear. He refused to eat the food passed to him through a feces-smeared portal.

Swelling in his back and spine caused Robertson to lose feeling in his legs and lose control of his bodily functions. That prompted jailers on another shift to have him transported to a hospital. After doctors confirmed that he was paralyzed, the jailers who had accompanied him to the hospital left, telling him he was being released. Robertson has required neurosurgery and extensive physical therapy. The county refused to pay any of his medical costs, since he had been “released” and was no longer in the jail’s custody.

Robertson’s permanent injuries rendered him unable to work and pay his probation fees, leading Milam County District Attorney William W. Torrey to ask the court to revoke his probation.

In April 2018, with the assistance of New York attorney Ty Clevenger, Robertson filed a federal civil rights action against the county, Sheriff David Greene, Torrey and various jail security and medical staff, alleging excessive use of force and retaliation. The case remains pending, with Robertson filing his first amended complaint on June 22, 2018. See: Robertson v. Milam County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Tex.), Case No. 6:18-cv-00096-RP-JCM. 

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Related legal case

Robertson v. Milam County