‘Harris County Jail, time is up’: Lawsuit filed after inmate dies from apparent medical emergency while in custody

HOUSTON – A lawsuit has been filed against Harris County officials for the death of an inmate that suffered an apparent medical emergency at the county jail in May.

Robert Terry, 32, was pronounced dead at LBJ Hospital on May 16 at 7:32 a.m. He asked to be taken to the jail’s clinic before he collapsed, officials said. He was booked into jail on May 13 for retaliation, according to the petition for the lawsuit.

The family’s attorney, Allie Booker, said the Section 1983 Civil Rights Act case named Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, an unidentified officer under the name “John Doe,” and Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, President and CEO of the Harris County Health System, for the following:

  • Cruel and unusual punishment as to all defendants
  • Deliberate and/or indifferent policies as to Gonzalez and Porsa
  • Failure to supervise as to Gonzalez and Porsa
  • Failure to train as to Gonzalez
  • Failure to assess as to Gonzalez and Officer John Doe
  • Conditions of confinement as to all defendants
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) as to all defendants

According to the petition, the defendants violated Terry’s constitutional rights, ”by creating and engaging in a practice of the use of a denial of necessary medical treatment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” He was reportedly absent from court on May 13 due to being ill.

“One must take note that, although the defendant was ill, he was made to fill out paperwork and was forced to go to ‘pre-trial’ where he laid on the floor in pain as other jail mates observed him beg for assistance from pre-trial workers in the jail that were conducting pre-trial duties. Most importantly, “he begged Officer John Doe,” the petition said. At one point, Booker said Terry yelled, “I knew y’all [expletive] were going to kill me… you [expletive] are going to let me die right here you [expletive].”

“The issues that were visibly seen that everybody saw - with respect to my client - was that he was foaming at the mouth, he was in and out of consciousness, he laid on the floor from the time he got there until the time he left. He vomited over and over and over again and by the time that he perished, there was blood coming from his anus,” Attorney Booker said during a news conference Thursday. “And you know what jailers did? Laughed at him, taunted him, told him nothing was wrong with him, cursed him out, told him to move along through processing, move along through pre-trial. Inmates are standing there begging for them to help him. They laughed.”

Booker alleged that Terry was left in his vomit for over an hour and jailers refused to offer him any treatment.

“At some point, after an hour or so, he comes to, and let me say this is the first time he collapsed because he collapsed more than once,” Booker said. “He’s begging for his meds. He’s specifically begging - from what I’ve been told - for mental health meds and diabetes meds.”

During one of the times Terry collapsed, Booker said he allegedly went into a “dizzy fright” and began knocking things down until he fell and busted his head, causing blood to splatter. Emergency officials were reportedly called an hour and a half later, she said.

Booker said this isn’t the first time she’s heard of inmates receiving such treatment.

“I will say this, I have even heard of them refusing people’s medicine and kicking them out the damn door foaming at the mouth into the streets so they can be somebody else’s problem. Harris County Jail, time is up,” Booker continued.

“This is hard just hearing people actually are coming forward,” Michelle Thomas said during the news conference. “To know that he was begging for his life, y’all don’t know what this is doing to us, ‘cause he could still be here.”

Terry’s family said his funeral service and a balloon release will be held this Saturday.

“I just want those accountable to be brought to justice,” Terry’s mother said. “That was my son. I loved him. That’s all I can say right now.”

As of May, officials confirmed that six inmates have died in the jail. In 2022, 27 inmates reportedly died. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee called for a federal investigation.


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