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JASPER, Texas—On June 1, 2022, Jasper officials lost their appeal for their denied motion of summary judgment in Sims v. Griffin, an inmate death case, meaning the case will proceed to trial.
Steven Mitchell Qualls, 28, was arrested by the Jasper Police Department for Public Intoxication after refusing to leave a hospital, when he was discharged, on January 28, 2019. After approximately 33 hours, Qualls died in the jail’s detox cell after his condition worsened and was not provided any medical or mental health care by Sergeant Toderick D. Griffin, Officer Sterling Ramon Linebaugh and Dispatcher Heather Rene O’Dell. Frances Earline Sims, Quall’s mother, sued them under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil action for deprivation of rights, and alleged that Griffin, Linebaugh, and O’Dell violated Quall’s constitutional rights.
Qualls was taken to the hospital by EMS for chest pains, agitation, and tachycardia. When arrested, he was visibly intoxicated throughout the booking process and taken to the jail’s detox cell around 10:00p p.m.
While in the cell, Qualls did not sleep or eat. He began calling out for help from the jail staff and requested to be taken to the hospital. After approximately ten hours, he began vomiting a dark black liquid and remained lying in his vomit.
According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued opinion, O’Dell was unable to communicate with Qualls to roll over. When she asked if she should call EMS and what to do if Qualls vomited again, Griffin said not to and Linebaugh said to “let him,” as stated in the opinion.
When cleaning the cell after Qualls had vomited three hours later, Linebaugh and Griffin saw “a small tied-off piece of a bag” that would typically be used to hold illegal narcotics on the floor, but it was thrown away.
After hours of vomiting and crying for help, Qualls died in the cell.
On March 30, 2020, a federal lawsuit was filed against the officers on behalf of Qualls’s family. They are represented by Dean Malone, a constitutional rights lawyer.
“Mitchell needed help, and it would have been apparent to anyone that he would not have appeared intoxicated for more than a few hours after arrest. When Mitchell began throwing up – even a baggie that likely contained drugs when ingested – it was even more obvious that he needed emergency medical treatment,” Malone said. “Instead, he was just left in the cell. A young man arrested for public intoxication should not die alone in a cell, with no treatment, in vomit-stained clothing. Our society is better than that.”
The defendants then filed for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity which the district court denied. “It found genuine disputes of material fact surrounding Sims’s claims that the officers were deliberately indifferent to Qualls’s serious medical needs,” as stated in the issued opinion.
Certain defendants filed an appeal against this decision only 12 days before trial. They lost their appeal on June 1, 2022, due to Quall’s rights being established in Easter v. Howell and to a reasonable jury being able to find that the officers ignored his cries for help and disregarded Quall’s serious medical needs. Currently, the case is still awaiting trial.
“We are glad that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor. Nobody should have to suffer like Mitchell did, and we look forward to a jury’s decision about his horrific ordeal,” Malone said, “Hopefully, Defendants will not attempt to further delay the case by seeking reconsideration of the three-judge ruling, or trying to get the Supreme Court to rule against the court of appeals.”
Written by: ktsw admin