Deputies not Cleared Yet in Drug Death

HOUSTON (CN) – Two Texas constables who told paramedics to inject a man with a sedative that killed him need to prove they are immune from his parents’ claims, a Texas appeals court ruled.
     Jamail Joseph Amron, an African-American and Iranian man, had trouble breathing after he took a small dose of cocaine on Sept. 30, 2010 at an apartment complex in Spring, a northern Houston suburb, according to the case record.
     He called 911 from the property’s poolside phone at around 1 a.m.
     Amron, 23, walked to a nearby Burger King and banged on its front window, restaurant manager Cindy Lansdale said in a deposition.
     “Amron asked Lansdale for help,” Texas 14th Court of Appeals Justice J. Brett Busby wrote in the April 12 ruling. The restaurant was closed so Lansdale told him to walk around to the drive-through window, where she gave him a cup of water.
     As Amron sat on a curb sipping the water, a Harris County deputy constable pulled up with the cruiser’s lights and sirens on, and parked by Amron, Lansdale said in her deposition.
     Texas constables and their deputies serve legal papers and are bailiffs in Harris County courtrooms. They also patrol neighborhoods and investigate crimes like sheriff’s officers. They are called “officers” and “police” in the case record.
     “After the police vehicle arrived, Jamail Amron continued to drink the water in the same calm manner, while sitting down in the same place,” according to the fifth amended complaint of a lawsuit his parents filed in September 2012.
     Other paramedics and constables arrived and without provocation one of the officers threatened to “knock the fuck out” of Amron, the lawsuit states.
     “The constable, without explanation, immediately started placing Amron in handcuffs. Amron offered no resistance and said to the deputy constable, ‘But I didn’t do anything.’ While he was being handcuffed, Amron attempted to give Lansdale a phone number,” Busby wrote in the ruling.
     The constable dragged Amron to the back of an ambulance and Amron broke away and ran toward the restaurant, setting off a scrum in which four officers held him down and had paramedics inject the sedative, Lansdale said in her deposition.
     The lawsuit calls the drug Versed, the brand name for midazolam hydrochloride, prescribed to treat seizures and insomnia in adults and to relax children before surgery.
     Drugmaker Hoffmann-La Roche has taken Versed off the market, but generics abound.
     “According to Lansdale, Amron lost ‘all natural body functions’ and fell to the ground like a dead man,” the ruling states.
     With Amron supine on the ground and his handcuffed wrists under him, Lansdale testified, constable Sgt. Mary Haver kicked him gently in the side.
     Deputy Kevin Vailes put his boot over Amron’s nose and mouth, Lansdale said.
     “Vailes pressed down on Amron’s face with his boot until the arch of Amron’s neck flattened against the ground. Lansdale believed Vailes held his boot on top of Amron’s face for two to five minutes,” the ruling states.
     The paramedics and officers did not bother to check Amron’s vital signs for 15 minutes. They left him lying motionless on the ground. Paramedics then loaded him onto a stretcher, put him in an ambulance and whisked him off, according to the ruling.
     “Once the ambulance drove off, Lansdale saw officers placing yellow investigation tape around the area where the incident had occurred. One of the investigating officers told Lansdale that Amron had died,” the ruling states.
     Amron’s parents say in their amended complaint that paramedics injected him two more times with the sedative, once in each thigh, as he lay unresponsive on the ground before the ambulance took him. The ruling does not mention these injections, just the one in his shoulder.
     Amron had a lot going for him despite the cocaine dabbling that led to his tragic death, according to his obituary.
     He managed a restaurant and was pursuing an engineering degree at a junior college.
     He loved to play soccer, a passion he shared with his dad. “He also enjoyed church, family gatherings, holidays, taking pictures, joking around, doing flips and especially eating his mom’s wonderful cooking,” his obituary states.
     His parents sued Harris County, the Harris County Constable’s Office Precinct 4, seven of its constables, Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services and three of its paramedics for excessive force, false arrest, unreasonable search and seizure, denial of medical treatment, failure to intervene and civil rights violations.
     Plaintiffs’ attorney Bradford Gilde did not respond to an email asking why he filed the case in state court rather than Federal Court.
     All the defendants except Sgt. Haver and Deputy Vailes have been dismissed or dropped.
     Haver and Vailes moved for summary judgment, claiming Amron’s parents must prove their conduct was so vicious it cleared the bar of qualified immunity, which shields police from liability for all but the most egregious misconduct.
     A Harris County judge denied the motion and a three-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston affirmed Tuesday.
     “We overrule appellants’ issues on appeal because a defendant cannot establish an affirmative defense such as qualified immunity, which it bears the burden to prove, by filing a no-evidence motion for summary judgment,” Busby wrote for the panel.

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