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$1 Million Settlement in Lawsuit Over Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death

by Matt Clarke

A federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of a Texas prisoner who died after jailers ignored his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical condition settled for $1 million. 

When Fernando Longoria, 29, reported to the Carrizales-Rucker Cameron County Detention Center in Texas in January 2015 to serve a 10-day sentence for DWI, everyone expected him to walk out of the jail alive. Within six days, however, he was dead. His family filed suit alleging he died because he was denied medical care pursuant to the jail’s policy of not transporting prisoners to a hospital. 

According to the complaint, Longoria was initially placed in general population. On his third day at the jail, other prisoners were screaming for help because Longoria was having violent seizures and sweating profusely. He was taken to the infirmary, where notes by a jail nurse indicated that he was having delusions, believing two boys were trying to kill him with knives. He beat on the cell door so hard his hands were bloody, stopped eating and was talking to himself.

Instead of sending Longoria to a hospital they moved him to a solitary padded cell, according to the lawsuit. There, Longoria rubbed feces all over himself and the cell, yet nurses reported he was fine and did not need to be hospitalized.

On the night of the fifth day, he passed out on the cell floor and was making gurgling noises. Medical staff told the guards to sit him upright. “They merely sat him up and put a sandwich on his lap and put an apple in his hand and left him in the padded cell,” the lawsuit stated. The next day they noticed Longoria’s eyes were open, his skin was yellow and he was no longer making noises. He was pronounced dead on January 22, 2015. 

While he was delusional, jail staff had him sign a form absolving them of any liability. Surveillance video of the cell where Longoria was housed had stopped working eight hours before his death.

According to court documents, Longoria died from neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a condition caused by Haldol, an antipsychotic drug that jail medical personnel had injected him with, which induced rhabdomyolysis – the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue. Basically, he had a reaction to Haldol that caused his muscles to quickly deteriorate, poisoning his body. 

“He should never have been down that path to see a psychiatrist who gave him an injection of Haldol,” said Eddie Lucio, one of the attorneys who represented Longoria’s family. “They gave him Haldol, then there’s 24 hours of delusional behavior.” 

Lucio maintained that Longoria should have been taken to a hospital via ambulance, but that didn’t occur because transporting prisoners to the hospital was against a jail policy intended to reduce staff overtime.

Cameron County officials were apparently prepared to argue that Longoria had not disclosed to jailers that he was taking Xanax and using cocaine, and withdrawal from those drugs caused his delusional behavior that led to his death. However, as the trial date approached, they decided to settle the case for $1 million in April 2018. The settlement was finalized and the case closed in August. Longoria was survived by his wife and three children. See: Villalon v. Cameron County, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00161. 



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Related legal case

Villalon v. Cameron County