Court again asserts that Orange Co. is responsible for inmate’s death

Court again asserts that Orange Co. is responsible for inmate’s death

In November 2016, the United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit agreed with a jury decision that awarded $2.5 million in damages against Orange County for the wrongful death of an inmate held in the county jail’s detention “bubble” for days on end as the mentally ill man died of renal failure in a pool of uneaten jail food and human waste.

The county appealed that ruling to the same court for review “en banc,” or by all the court’s justices, but in the court’s Dec. 28 ruling, the panel has decided to again uphold prior decisions by refusing to hear the petition as filed by the county.

“No member of this panel nor judge in regular active service on the court … requested that the court be polled on Rehearing En Banc,” therefore the county’s request is denied, penned Judge Rhesa H. Barksdale, in agreement with fellow judges Leslie H. Southwick and E. Grady Jolly.

According to the lawsuit filed following the death of Robert Montano, the deceased was held on suspicion of “bath salt” intoxication in an observation “bubble.” Evidence presented before the courts indicated Montano was never tested for bath salt intoxication, and post mortem toxicology testing failed to detect any trace of the substance in the man’s system.

Still, as he was being held on suspicion, Montano was held in the secluded bubble for more than four days, during which time he refused food and requested medical assistance. No medical intervention was forthcoming, according to court documents, and Montano succumbed to renal failure while still locked up in the county’s bubble.

The claims made against Orange County related to the public entity’s de facto procedure of holding suspected intoxicated inmates “as long as it takes” to sober themselves up even without confirmation of actual intoxication. The court found, “The record demonstrates the county did not give medical care, with the expectation that he would heal himself. Witnesses testify that the county failed to check his vital signs more than once in almost four-and-a-half days. The county disregarded state standards to search the Texas mental health treatment database for pertinent records that would have pointedly informed responsible care. Despite knowing Mr. Montano hardly ate or drink for almost four-and-a-half days, the county did nothing more than continue depositing food in the bubble. The evidence shows that there was no mistaking Mr. Montano’s dehydration.

“In short, there was evidence that the policy was the moving force for Mr. Montano’s inadequate medical care. His death resulted from the state’s inaction, which was a direct result of the county’s de facto policy.”

According to the court, trial testimony adequately established that Montano’s experience was standard, general practice; not an isolated example, but was instead, a “pervasive pattern of serious deficiencies.”

 

The court determined that the award of $1.5 million for pain was not excessive and coincided with the nature of the crime, and further ruled that a previously struck $915,000 award be added back to the total amount due Montano’s beneficiaries. Added to legal fees also awarded in the judgment, Orange County’s bill is topping $3.1 million.

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