HOUSTON (AP) — The family of an Arkansas man has filed a federal lawsuit in Texas accusing a for-profit jail and at least 12 guards and nurses of denying him adequate medical care as his health worsened and leaving him to die in his cell.
Videos that are part of the lawsuit show 35-year-old Michael Sabbie having difficulty standing and breathing after an altercation with guards hours before his death in July 2015 at the jail, which sits on the border of Texas and Arkansas in Texarkana, Texas. In the videos, Sabbie can be heard saying at least 19 times that he can’t breathe.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Texarkana, Texas, alleges the jail, the Bi-State Justice Center, and its employees deprived Sabbie of his medications, denied him adequate medical care, ignored his serious medical needs and forced him “to endure extreme and needless pain and suffering … causing his death.”
William McConnell, co-founder and managing director of Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections, which runs the jail, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday. LaSalle Corrections operates jails in Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.
It’s the second wrongful death lawsuit filed in the last eight months against the jail and its staff for allegedly not providing adequate medical care. The family of 20-year-old Morgan Angerbauer, who was diabetic, alleges in its lawsuit that a nurse failed to test her blood sugar and then gave Angerbauer the wrong medical treatment. Angerbauer died on July 1 of diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when there isn’t enough insulin in the body. The nurse has been charged with misdemeanor negligent homicide. LaSalle has denied any wrongdoing in that case.
Sabbie was arrested by police in Texarkana, Arkansas, and jailed on July 19, 2015, following a verbal domestic dispute with his wife. The Bi-State Justice Center is used by authorities in both Texas and Arkansas.
Sabbie told jail personnel that he suffered from heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical conditions, but that while he was incarcerated, staff didn’t check his blood pressure or blood sugar levels and didn’t give him any of his medications, according to the lawsuit.
The suit says Sabbie told jail personnel on July 20 that he had trouble breathing and then collapsed in his cell on July 21.
After a court appearance later in the day on July 21, Sabbie was brought back to the jail, where he got into an altercation with several guards, who tackled him to the ground and doused him with pepper spray.
In one video that jail personnel shot of the incident, an unidentified guard can be heard saying Sabbie refused to go back to his cell and “started engaging in aggressiveness” toward an officer. Sabbie’s lawyers, who obtained the video, contend Sabbie was in respiratory distress and had wanted to make a phone call.
Sabbie can be seen struggling to catch his breath in the video before he’s tackled to the ground. He is heard at least 19 times saying he can’t breathe. After his hands are handcuffed behind his back, Sabbie is taken to an office, where he is briefly seen by a nurse.
“I can’t breathe. … Please, please,” Sabbie says in the video.
He’s taken to a shower, where he collapses onto the floor.
The next morning, Sabbie was found dead in his cell.
“It’s highly shocking and disturbing to see. It shows a total lack of humanity, deliberate indifference to human suffering. It’s unacceptable,” Erik Heipt, one of the attorneys for Sabbie’s family, said of the video.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70