Three Texas jail officers face firing over death of man in custody

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2015 12:58 PM

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) - Three detention officers are facing termination for failing to render emergency aid in connection with the March death of an inmate at Arlington City Jail, police said on Tuesday.

Police in Arlington, west of Dallas, recommended that its detention officers Pedro Medina, Wes Allen and Matt Fisher be fired over the death of Jonathan Paul, 42, who was found unresponsive in his cell on March 10, a day after his arrest.

Paul died three days later at a local hospital.

The police also recommended that Sergeant Frank Vacante, who was the jail supervisor during the incident, be suspended for five days without pay.The officers, who were not immediately available for comment, can appeal the recommended punishments to the police chief.

Five other officers were cleared of wrongdoing during the internal investigation, according to police.

Medina and officer Stephen Schmidt, who retired in October, were indicated last month on charges of criminally negligent homicide.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner ruled Paul's cause of death as "in-custody death with application of physical restraints,” with "acute psychosis” as a significant contributing factor.

Police said officers responded to a disturbance call in March and arrested Paul after they discovered he had outstanding warrants for traffic tickets.

Surveillance footage released by Arlington police shows Paul pacing and howling inside his cell, before stuffing his pants down the toilet, flooding the area.

Officers are seen rushing into the jail cell, dragging Paul outside as he makes choking sounds and weeps.

The internal investigation found Medina used a high level of force on Paul by continuing to pin his legs to the ground even after he stopped resisting, according to a disciplinary report.

Paul was transferred to another isolation cell, where he was later found unconscious.

Allen and Fisher watched through the jail cell window as Paul lay face-down and motionless but did not enter, despite being part of the earlier struggle where they used pepper spray to subdue him, the report said.

Paul’s family filed a wrongful death federal lawsuit in May against the city of Arlington and the police department.

The incident comes as Texas lawmakers are looking into deaths in jails after a black woman was found hanged in a county jail north of Houston this year, renewing questions about racial bias in U.S. policing.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz, Bernard Orr)