Escamilla v. Webb County
This is a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of Rafael Edgardo Solis, Sr., a pretrial detainee at the Webb County Jail in Texas who died of asphyxiation allegedly caused by the jailers’ use of excessive force against him. Mr. Solis was taken into custody at the Webb County Jail on February 11, 2009 for falling behind on child support payments. He died at the hands (and feet) of his jailors three days later on February 14, 2009.
Mr. Solis was a chronic alcoholic who suffered a seizure on his first day at the jail. Rather than transporting him to a hospital to get the medical attention needed, the jailors watched his condition deteriorate. His DTs got worse and he began acting erratically. On February 14, the jailors applied force against Mr. Solis four times: first, they handcuffed him, allegedly to prevent self-harm; second, they switched his handcuffs; third, they gave him a shot of Benadryl, allegedly to calm him down; and fourth, they killed him via asphyxiation (apparently after beating and kicking him), allegedly while trying to put pants on him so they could transport him to a hospital.
The coroner’s autopsy report concluded that the death was a homicide from mechanical and positional asphyxiation. The autopsy also showed that Mr. Solis had suffered two fractured ribs, diaphragm contusions, hemorrhages on his back and chest wall, and external abrasions and contusions. A Texas Ranger’s report also noted that some of the bruising on Mr. Solis’s chest had cross-patterns consistent with the laces from one of the jailors’ boots. The state is investigating this death as a homicide.
This lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Laredo Division) by Mr. Solis’s mother, individually and as a representative of Mr. Solis’s estate, and a representative of Mr. Solis’s two minor children. The complaint asserted a multitude federal civil rights claims (under 42 U.S.C. §1983) and state tort claims against the county, the sheriff, and individual county employees at the jail, primarily relating to the use of excessive force and inadequate medical care. The court dismissed all but the excessive force claims against seven individually named jailors.
The jailers filed an interlocutory appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on qualified immunity grounds. The court dismissed the jailers’ appeal, holding that it lacked jurisdiction. The case was sent back to the district court, and in the weeks before trial the county agreed to settle the case for $1 million, the limits of its insurance policy.
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- Adele Kimmel
Janet Varnell, of Varnell & Warwick in the Villages