Judge holds hearing on civil rights lawsuit against area county

(Photo by Julie Hays/file)
(Photo by Julie Hays/file)(KWTX)
Published: Oct. 17, 2018 at 11:01 AM CDT
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A New York attorney, attorneys for Milam County and the U.S. District Judge met Wednesday on the status of a lawsuit filed against the county, the sheriff, several jail employees and the district attorney after an incident in which a former county jail inmate suffered back injuries and lost a tooth in an attack by guards that left him permanently disabled.

U.S. District Judge Alan Albright, plaintiff’s attorney Ty Clevenger, of New York, and attorney J. Eric Magee, who represents Milam County and the associated defendants, met in status conference at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the status of the pending case that initially was filed in the interest of John L. Robertson.

Clevenger attended the conference via telephone.

Original defendants include Milam County; Dennis Greene, Milam County Sheriff; William Torrey, Milam County District Attorney; Dr. Stuart J. Yoffem, Milam County Jail physician; Stephanie Vargas, Milam County Jail nurse; and Milam County deputies Chris White, Katrina Douglas, Jonathan Mendoza, Joshua Hughes, Ryan Blankenmeyer and Cindy McBee, but Albright, on Wednesday, said he likely will drop all but Mendoza, Hughes and Douglass from the list of defendants.

Albright told the lawyers that was his intention, but because Wednesday’s hearing was to determine status only, he could not enter that order without docketing another hearing in court, which he did not set Wednesday.

“If he actually does that, we’ll ask him to sever the cases into those retained and those dropped, so we can file an appeal to try to get the other parties restored as defendants,” Clevenger said.

Clevenger also said he plans to confer with Magee on other issues before the pending hearing.

Robertson, according to the first amended complaint filed in the case, in 2016 while on probation, asked his probation officer to get him into the drug treatment program run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The officer made the arrangements and Robertson was booked into the Milam County Jail on June 20, where he was supposed to be for 17 days before his transfer to TDCJ, but Milam County held him more than that without transferring him to the drug program, according to Clevenger.

He was injured during his stay in the jail.

While there, in a cell with several other inmates, Robertson advised the younger cellmates to do as jail guards told them and not argue.

That, according to the complaint, infuriated one of the guards who began cursing and yelling at Robertson, a verbal assault that eventually turned physical and involved several other jail guards.

The complaint says Deputy Mendoza got angry because “that he did not want him (Robertson) telling anyone else what to do.”

The disagreement led to physical confrontations between guards and Robertson that left him with significant injuries.

The complaint goes on to say Robertson was denied medical treatment in spite of asking for assistance.

Jail staff noted they believed Robertson was “faking his injuries,” according to the complaint.

The next day, when Robertson finally was taken to a hospital, the doctor there said he, in fact, was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the injuries he sustained while in custody.

Robertson, the complaint says, sustained several injuries, including a lost tooth and injuries to his spine, along with the paralysis.

In Magee’s response to the first amended complaint, he asserts a general denial of all issues, and writes his clients: “were engaged in the exercise of discretionary duties and acted within the course and scope of their duties as law enforcement officers employed by Milam County, Texas, with objectively reasonable expectations that their conduct was reasonable, lawful, and necessary in light of all attendant circumstances.

“At no time did the defendants violate a clearly established constitutional right. Nor were any of the officers’ actions objectively unreasonable. Therefore, the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity,” the denial states.

Milam County has refused to pay any of Robertson’s medical costs, Clevenger says, and he points out that while the county tried to absolve itself from any medical responsibility by releasing Robertson, “It doesn’t work that way.”

Robertson initially was under constant guard while at a hospital being treated, but eventually the deputies “just left,” the lawyer said.

“(Deputy) Douglass then drove to the hospital with a bag containing all of the Robertson’s property, threw it in his lap, and insisted that he sign a piece of paper,” the lawsuit says.

And it goes on to say: “When (Robertson) refused to sign, defendant Douglass got angry. The jailers guarding (Robertson) later informed him that he was being released from custody, and they abandoned him at the hospital.”

The lawsuit’s civil cover page shows a demand for a jury trial but makes no mention of the amount of damages sought.

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