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$470,000 Settlement After Texas Jail Nurses Fabricate Vital Signs for Detainee Who Died

by Douglas Ankney

On September 14, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dealt a death blow to claims filed by the estate of a Texas jail detainee against the county that held him when he died. But all was not lost for the Estate of Savion Hall; earlier, on June 30, 2022, the federal court for the Western District of Texas approved a settlement payment of $470,963.25 for his minor children by Soluta, Inc., the private healthcare contractor for the Midland County Jail (MCJ), where the firm’s nurses fabricated Hall’s vital signs and failed to perform medical checks before he died.

When Hall was booked into the jail in June 2019, Soluta staff became aware that he was on Prednisone for a breathing problem that had caused him to be hospitalized in the past. While he was held at MCJ, they provided him regular breathing treatments of medication administered with a nebulizer, listening to his bronchial breath sounds with a stethoscope and measuring his oxygen-saturation level with a pulse oximeter before and after the treatment.

At least that’s what the staffers claimed.

In fact, according to a later investigation by the Texas Rangers, video evidence showed Hall received 60 treatments, of which 11 were self-administered without any nurse present, despite protocol to the contrary. Nurses also consistently recorded oxygen-saturation levels over 95% but rarely used a pulse oximeter or stethoscope—and it’s impossible to determine oxygen-saturation levels without those tools. The Texas Rangers concluded that nurses had “fabricated vital signs and medical checks with regard to Hall’s oxygen levels and breathing levels.”

On July 10, 2019, Hall told guard Daniel Stickell he needed to go to medical for a breathing treatment. Stickell called medical, and another guard told him that Hall had just gotten a treatment so he could not receive another for four hours. Stickell told Hall to return to his cell. At about 6:15 a.m., Hall again requested to see medical personnel, telling Stickell “I’m not gonna make it.” Stickell observed that Hall struggled to stand and was close to passing out. Stickell again called medical, but no one answered. Stickell confirmed that Hall had his inhaler and sent him back to his cell.

When Stickell was relieved by another officer a few minutes later, Stickell advised the guard to send Hall to medical for a breathing treatment. Medical staff then sent Hall to the hospital and discharged him from the MCJ. EMS records revealed that Hall’s oxygen-saturation level was 77% and that Hall was “confused and not oriented to time, place, and person.” He died in the hospital days later, technically no longer in custody at MCJ.

County and Medical Defendants Sued

Hall’s mother, Angela Robinson, filed suit, joined by Clara Busby on behalf of his minor children, L’Mya Hall and Tranya Hall, as well as the independent administrator of Hall’s estate, Rachel Ambler. Their suit accused Midland County and Stickell, as well as Soluta and its employees at the jail, of deliberate indifference to Hall’s serious medical needs, in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.

Plaintiffs then reached their settlement with Soluta and its nurses. Per the agreement, those Medical Defendants will pay L’Mya Hall $10,000 in a lump sum on October 2, 2025, plus $1,000 monthly for seven years beginning that same date; she will also be paid $10,000 semiannually for four years beginning July 1, 2026, with an additional lump-sum payment of $54,106.30 on October 2, 2032.

Tranya Hall will be paid $10,000 on July 24, 2026, when $1,000 monthly payments will also begin and continue for seven years; additionally, she will get $10,000 semiannually for four years beginning July 1, 2027, and $66,091.95 in a lump sum on July 29, 2033. Medical Defendants also agreed to pay guardian ad litem Greta Braker $2,765. See: Robinson v. Midland Cty., USDC (W.D. Tex.), Case No. 7:21-cv-00111 (2022).

No Liability for County Defendants

Meanwhile Midland County and Stickell moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). When the district court granted that motion, Plaintiffs turned to the Fifth Circuit, but it affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

Quoting Valle v. City of Houston, 613 F.3d 536 (5th Cir. 2010), the Court explained that “municipalities such as Midland County cannot be held liable unless plaintiffs can show ‘(1) an official policy (or custom), of which (2) a policymaker can be charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a constitutional violation whose moving force is that custom or policy.’” To do that, Plaintiffs alleged that six nurses on at least 50 occasions failed to follow proper protocol—a massive number of policy violations that demonstrated there was another unwritten policy in place governing the nurses’ actions. But the Court opined that “a pattern is not sufficient to establish a policy where the municipality had no knowledge of the pattern.”

With regard to Stickell and Plaintiffs’ deliberate indifference claim against him, the Court said that to prevail they had to show that Stickell was “aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists.” Moreover, the Court continued, they also had to prove that Stickell “actually drew the inference,” and that he “disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it,” as laid out in Baldwin v. Dorsey, 964 F.3d 320 (5th Cir. 2020).

Yet the facts showed that Stickell called medical and was told that Hall could not yet receive another treatment. He then instructed the guard who relieved him to take Hall for treatment. Based on this, the Court concluded that Stickell’s conduct did not show deliberate indifference. Accordingly, the district court’s dismissal of the county defendants was affirmed.

Plaintiffs were represented by Dallas attorneys Bruce K. Thomas and Thomas Dean Malone. See: Robinson v. Midland County, 80 F.4th 704 (5th Cir. 2023).  

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Related legal cases

Robinson v. Midland Cty

Robinson v. Midland County