Skip navigation

After $300,000 Settlement for Detainee’s Death, Texas County Looks to Replace Jail

Using detainees’ money to push forward with plans to replace Texas’ Nueces County Jail, Sheriff J.C. Hooper tapped a commissary fund in April 2023 to spend up to $220,770 for an outside consultant to prepare a study for a new lockup, after the current one failed its last two state inspections.

The cost of the study is not much less than what the county paid the family of a jail detainee who died during a violent cell extraction by jailers in March 2018. Daniel Emilio Carrillo, 27, was being held at the jail when he experienced a “prolonged psychiatric event,” according to a complaint later filed on his behalf.

He was booked into the jail on a probation violation on February 12, 2018; the underlying charge was burglary of a habitation – Carrillo was foraging for metal at a relative’s abandoned house. During the three weeks he spent at the jail, his mental health deteriorated as he experienced withdrawal from Xanax, which he used to treat his anxiety. One jailer described him as having an “altered state of mind.” In a phone call to his father, Carrillo said he thought the guards were setting him up to fight with other detainees.

Carrillo, who was morbidly obese, had a history of substance abuse and mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. His obesity was a serious medical condition associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and cardiac arrest.

He was seen nude and crying in his cell on March 3 and 4, 2018; he began having a mental breakdown, speaking nonsense and at one point using his mattress to block the view into his cell. Jailers responded to Carrillo’s mental health crisis by yelling at him and taunting him; one reportedly threatened to “beat his ass.”

Then, on March 5, 2018, without consulting medical or mental health staff, four guards – later joined by another jailer and a supervisor, Lt. Thomas Lowke – performed a cell extraction. During that process Carrillo was Tasered and severely beaten, suffering a broken nose. The six guards pinned him to the floor, putting pressure on his obese body while he was handcuffed behind his back.

Carrillo stopped breathing and became unresponsive; it was only then that the jailers sought medical assistance. When nurses arrived, they found Carrillo had defecated and urinated on himself and his lips were blue. According to a prisoner who witnessed Carrillo’s body being removed, his “face looked like it got hit by a truck and it was covered in blood.” Sadly, Carrillo was due in court for a probation revocation hearing less than 12 hours after he died. Lt. Lowke, it was later learned, had not yet taken a use-of-force training course. The medical examiner determined the cause of death was homicide.

For such a cascade of errors, Carrillo’s parents filed a wrongful death suit in federal court for the Southern District of Texas. The complaint noted “the purported rationale for the [cell] extraction that was provided to State investigators was to move [Carrillo] ‘closer’ to medical personnel,” even though no medical staffers were informed or summoned prior to or during the cell extraction – and despite the fact that while in his cell he did not pose a threat to others.

The complaint also noted that use of a Taser greatly increased Carrillo’s risk of sudden cardiac arrest, citing a May 2012 article in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association. Additionally, Carrillo’s parents alleged violations of American Correctional Association (ACA) standards, Texas Commission on Law Enforcement training, the state Department of Criminal Justice’s use-of-force plan and the American Bar Association’s standards for treatment of prisoners. Claims of excessive use-of-force, supervisory liability, municipal liability and inadequate medical care were raised, plus a claim under the Texas Tort Claims Act.

The case settled for $300,000, including attorney fees, on January 12, 2021. The Carrillos were represented by Corpus Christi attorney John T. Flood. See: Carrillo v. Buendia, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 2:20-cv-00028.

This was not the first jail death caused by guards purportedly trying to “help” a detainee. Sheriff Hooper also didn’t explain how a new jail would improve survival chances for others like Carrillo, though he made reference to court delays that had left at least one detainee “in this jail almost six years, in a county jail, waiting for his day in court” because he was unable to post bail. 

Additional sources: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, KIII