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Lawsuit Proceeds Over Death of Prisoner at Privately-Run Jail

by Scott Grammer

Michael Todd Sabbie, 35, died on July 22, 2015 at the Bi-State Jail, which sits astraddle the border between Texas and Arkansas. He left behind four children. U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven, in a 169-page 2019 report and recommendation, discussed the extensive record of mismanagement and neglect at the jail, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private company. Sabbie, who was a diabetic, asthmatic and had high blood pressure and heart disease, had been arrested following a verbal dispute with his wife. 

He was having medical issues at the jail, but when he said he was experiencing trouble breathing while returning to the facility from court, a guard threw him to the ground. Other guards jumped on top and pepper-sprayed Sabbie in the face. He was taken to the nurse’s office briefly, then placed first in a shower and then back in his cell. He was written up for “creating a disturbance” and “feining [sic] illness and difficulty breathing.” 

Sabbie was found dead the next morning. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.24; Dec. 2016, p.43].

Judge Craven’s March 6, 2019 report and recommendation described how guards at the Bi-State Jail were untrained, and how there was a “normal practice” of falsifying cell check records. She wrote that the guard who threw Sabbie to the ground “did not listen to Sabbie, attempt to calm him, or explain the consequences of his actions.” Further, the guard “knew Mr. Sabbie was saying he could not breathe and the handheld video depicts Mr. Sabbie repeatedly saying he could not breathe while on the ground underneath five officers.” The magistrate judge concluded that jail staff “knowingly disregarded Mr. Sabbie’s complaints, thus acting with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”

Judge Craven’s report was entered in a federal lawsuit over Sabbie’s death, which remains pending and has been set for trial. See: Sabbie v. Southwestern Correctional, LLC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tex.), Case No. 5:17-cv-00113-RWS-CMC. 

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Additional sources: huffpost.com, texarkanagazette.com

Related legal case

Sabbie v. Southwestern Correctional, LLC