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Inmate death lawsuit continues against county

February 6, 2018 GMT

BROWNSVILLE — Efforts to settle a lawsuit between Cameron County and the family of a man who died while in custody at the Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito in 2015 have failed.

Court documents show that a mediator reported that attorneys for Cameron County and the family of Fernando Longoria, who died while in solitary confinement at the county jail on Jan. 22, 2015, were unable to reach a settlement.

Longoria died while serving a 10-day sentence for a DWI charge. He was 29 at the time of his death and married with three children, court documents show.

The family sued Cameron County later that year alleging wrongful death.

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Cameron County has vigorously denied that it was negligent or that its policies resulted in Longoria’s death.

SOLITARY DEATH

Three days into Longoria’s sentence, detainees began screaming for jailers because Longoria was having a violent seizure and sweating profusely, according to the lawsuit.

Instead of being taken to the hospital, he was taken to the jail infirmary, according to the lawsuit.

“Per jail records, Fernando no longer knew what day it was nor did he know where he was. He started beating the door so hard that his hands started to bleed,” the lawsuit states. “Nurse notes indicate Fernando continued to suffer from delusions and believed that 2 boys were trying to kill him with knives.”

Staff at the jail then notified the Tropical Texas Crisis Hotline that Longoria was delusional, according to the lawsuit.

“The jail could have … easily called for an ambulance or made arrangements to have him transported to the hospital, instead they just locked him back up in an even more secluded padded cell to suffer the last days of his life inhumanely,” the lawsuit states.

Over the next few days, the lawsuit describes how Longoria continued to deteriorate.

Longoria defecated on himself and rubbed feces all over his padded cell, but according to the lawsuit, the nurse at the jail continued to tell jailers that Longoria was fine.

By the night of Jan. 21, 2015, Longoria passed out on the floor of the cell and was making strange gurgling noises, according to the lawsuit.

“When medical staff arrived they merely requested the jailers to sit Fernando back up,” the lawsuit states.

The strange gurgling noises continued through the night, according to the lawsuit, and at 6 a.m., Longoria suffered another seizure and jailers still did not call an ambulance, the lawsuit states.

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“Instead, they merely sat him up and put a sandwich on his lap and put an apple in his hand and left him in the padded cell,” the lawsuit states.

Just before 7 a.m. that day, the jailer noticed that Longoria’s eyes were open and facing upward toward the ceiling, his skin was yellow and he was no longer making any noises, according to the lawsuit.

Longoria was dead, with a sandwich on his lap and an apple in his hand, the lawsuit states.

“The deceased spent the last agonizing days of his life suffering multiple seizures, crying, hallucinating, screaming for help and painfully banging the walls, the floor and anything else he could hit with any part of his body until his horribly bruised and lifeless body was eventually found covered in his own urine and feces,” the lawsuit states. “The whole time the Jail staff stood by callously watching and ignoring his cries for help. In essence, Fernando was monitored to death.”

CAUSE OF DEATH

During a court hearing last Thursday afternoon, Cameron County’s Chief Lawyer Juan A. Gonzalez said that Longoria was a Xanax user and never told jail staff that he used the prescription drug.

Court records indicate Longoria may have also abused cocaine.

The hearing was about Cameron County’s opposition to an expert that attorney Eddie Lucio, who represents Longoria’s family, wants to call as a witness during the trial. (Lucio is no relation to the state Senator by the same name, or his son, a state representative.)

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera did not make a ruling during the hearing.

Arguments during that hearing also revealed that Longoria died from complications of the rapid breakdown of tissue after the jail injected Longoria with an antipsychotic drug called Haldol, which caused Longoria’s body to rapidly heat up.

According to court documents, Longoria died from Neuroleptic Melignant Syndrome due to the Haldol injection which caused Rhabdomyolysis, the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue.

“He should have never been down that path to see a psychiatrist who gave him an injection of Haldol,” Lucio said during the hearing. “They gave him the Haldol then there’s 24 hours of delusional behavior.”

However, Lucio said during the hearing that there may be conflicting testimony as to cause of death that relates with withdrawals and seizures.

In the lawsuit, Lucio argues that Longoria should have been taken to the hospital via an ambulance but that he wasn’t because the jail has a policy of not using ambulances because of overtime costs and to maintain the jailer-to-inmate ratio required by state law.

“The jail personnel knew or should have known that Fernando was in grave danger but continued to act with callous indifference and reckless disregard for his safety,” the lawsuit states. “The medical staff could have called for an ambulance, but pursuant to Jail policies, they did not.”

The lawsuit is seeking $10 million in damages and also a court order prohibiting Cameron County from continuing the practice of nurses providing medical care without proper supervision, court records show.

Both Lucio and Gonzalez estimate a nine-day trial, which is scheduled to begin on Feb. 26, court records show.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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