Midland Co. Jail and City of Midland named in inmate suicide lawsuit

Local News

MIDLAND, Texas — On June 17, 2018, Stephanie Gonzales was arrested by a City of Midland police officer and taken to the Midland County jail. The Midland police officer responded after receiving a report that Stephanie was walking in a roadway. Stephanie said that she had taken approximately 10 Xanax that day, was diagnosed with PTSD, had bipolar disorder, was depressed and would like an isolated cell at the jail. She was also wearing a hospital bracelet, indicating that she had apparently recently received medical care.

A form used by the jail to transfer prisoners from police officer custody to jail custody included in the comments section “DIAGNOSED WITH PTSD, BIPOLAR AND DEPRESSION.” Despite the hospital bracelet, the “no” box was checked in response to the question, “Are there any current medical problems, recent hospitalizations or serious injuries or concerns about withdrawal?” Moreover, despite the comment about taking 10 Xanax that day, the “no” box was checked in response to a “medications” query.

Stephanie was ultimately admitted to the Midland County jail. However, contrary to Texas Commission on Jail Standards minimum standards, the intake jailer failed to complete the Texas Commission on Jail Standards–Issued Screening Form for Suicide and Medical/Mental/Developmental Impairments Form. Therefore, the intake jailer failed to ask a number of critical questions he was required to ask, including

•            Any disability/chronic illness (diabetes, hypertension, etc.)?

•            Does inmate appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs?

•            Do you have a history of drug/alcohol abuse?  If yes, note substance and when last used.

•            Do you think you will have withdrawal symptoms from stopping use of medications or other substances (including alcohol or drugs) while you are in jail?  If yes, describe.

•            Does the arresting/transporting officer believe or has the officer received information that inmate may be at risk of suicide?

•            Are you thinking of killing or injuring yourself today?  If so, how?

•            Have you ever attempted suicide?  If so, when and how?

•            Are you feeling hopeless or have nothing to look forward to?

•            Prior to arrest, did you feel down, depressed, or have little interest or pleasure in doing things?

•            Do you have nightmares, flashbacks, or repeated thoughts or feelings related to PTSD or something terrible from your past?

•            Are you extremely worried you will lose your job, position, spouse, significant other, custody of your children due to arrest?

•            Have you ever received services for emotional or mental health problems?

•            Have you been in a hospital for emotional/mental health in the last year?

•            If you answered yes to the immediately two preceding questions, do you know your diagnosis?

Moreover, the intake jailer did not answer the following observation questions.

•            Does inmate show signs of depression (sadness, irritability, emotional flatness)?

•            Does inmate display any unusual behavior, or act or talk strange (cannot focus attention, hearing or seeing things which are not there)?

•            Is inmate incoherent, disoriented or showing signs of mental illness?

If answers to any such questions were “yes,” then the intake jailer was required to notify his supervisor, a magistrate, and mental health professionals immediately. Unfortunately, it never happened.

Stephanie was put into a cell – alone with jail-issued clothing with which she could hang herself. Observations were not made in accordance with Texas Commission on Jail Standards minimum standards, and Stephanie was left to her own devices in the cell. She used her jail-issued pants as a noose and tied off the other end to something in the cell, committing suicide. Meanwhile, Stephanie’s cell was visible from the inside by video camera which no one apparently bothered to watch. Further, no face-to-face cell checks were made from the time Stephanie was put into her cell until long after she committed suicide.

A federal lawsuit was filed on March 11, 2020, in Midland, on behalf of Stephanie’s family.  The lawsuit claims that Defendants violated Stephanie’s constitutional rights to reasonable mental health care, to be protected, and not to be punished as a pre-trial detainee.  The lawsuit also alleges that Midland County and City of Midland violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. 

Constitutional rights lawyer Dean Malone represents the family.  Mr. Malone said, “Stephanie was a very troubled person with mental health issues. She did not need to be taken to a county jail, for a mere public intoxication offense, but instead to the nearest inpatient mental health facility. Texas law provides that such a person may be taken by a police officer to an inpatient mental health facility. If she had been taken to an inpatient mental health hospital, she would have received needed care. Instead, she was left in a cell, without being monitored as required by State regulations, and allowed to hang herself using jail-issued clothing. This is particularly troubling in light of other suicides and suicide attempts at the Midland County jail. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards found that the jail violated minimum standards when dealing with Stephanie. Hopefully, other Texas jails will take notice that they must protect mentally ill people.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss