Texas County Agrees to $1.325 Million Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Webb County Jail

Texas County Agrees to $1.325 Million Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Webb County Jail

For Immediate Release
May 10, 2023

Contact: Lucy Sears

Texas County Agrees to $1.325 Million Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Webb County Jail

TEXAS – On April 25, 2023, Texas’ Webb County and jailers at Webb County Jail settled a wrongful death suit for $1.325 million.

The lawsuit was first filed in May 2020, on behalf of Nelda Nuncio, the mother of Luis Alberto “Albert” Barrientos, a 22-year-old who died of a treatable infection while in pre-trial detention at the Webb County Jail after his medical needs were ignored for days.

Albert was booked into Webb County Jail on June 26, 2018, as a pre-trial detainee. At least four days before his death, Albert began to exhibit symptoms of being “seriously, visibly ill,” where he reported his illness to jailers, begging for medical attention, yet was denied medical care despite days of lying on the floor, wheezing, coughing up blood, and eventually losing his ability to speak. Jailers continued to ignore his symptoms, including pleas from his fellow detainees that he receive medical attention after noticing Albert was suffering hallucinations and had not eaten for days. Only after Albert was so gravely ill that he defecated on himself that jailers finally listened to his cellmates and took him to the showers, where he collapsed again, unconscious and could not be revived. He passed away on July 13, 2018.

In the original filed complaint, Nelda alleged that she had no idea about her son’s condition until one of Albert’s fellow detainees was released and contacted her to share that her son was gravely ill. Despite calling the jail to share that Albert suffered from heart valve and kidney problems, Nelda’s concerns were dismissed. A medical examiner determined that Albert died of sepsis caused by an untreated infection in his heart and lungs. A medical expert testified that Albert would likely have survived if he received medical attention anytime up to one hour before his death.

The suit was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Laredo. The complaint asserted federal civil rights claims and claims under Texas law against Webb County and the individual jailers for their deliberate indifference to Albert’s medical needs. After the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss based on claims that they were entitled to invoke the doctrine of qualified immunity, the case proceeded to discovery, where it was revealed that Webb County had destroyed key evidence, including videos and observation logs that showed which jailers were responsible for monitoring Albert in the days leading up to his death. Defendants then moved for summary judgment. Before the court could rule, the defendants agreed to settle the case for $1.325 million.

“We are proud to have secured one of the largest public settlements in Webb County and a full measure of justice for the Nuncio / Barrientos family. We will continue our relentless pursuit of justice, vindicating the civil rights of the injured and making our community and nation safer for all of us,” said Ron Rodriguez, Lead Counsel for the Nuncio / Barrientos family.

“The court correctly ruled that the jailer defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss stage, sending a strong message to public officials that they cannot evade the civil justice system and shield themselves from wrongdoing. Unfortunately, Albert’s story is not unique,” said Public Justice Access to Justice Director Leah Nicholls. “Albert was not the only pre-trial detainee to die at the jail due to public officials’ deliberate indifference. Less than 24 hours after Albert’s death, another inmate in the same cell also died of a medical condition. Additionally, Public Justice previously represented the family of Rafael Solis, who was beaten to death by jailers at Webb County Jail in 2009. None of these men were convicted of a crime and were jailed simply because they couldn’t afford bail, highlighting the injustice of the cash bail system and human rights abuses that occur when jails operate with impunity.”

Nelda is represented by Leah Nicholls and Shelby Leighton of Public Justice, Karla Gilbride, Ron Rodriguez of The Law Offices of Ronald Rodriguez, PC, Donald Slavik and Nicole Judge of Slavik Law, Jennifer Bennett and Robert Friedman of Gupta Wessler.

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