(CN) – Prison officials in Texas are not responsible for the death of a prisoner who overdosed when a plastic bag full of cocaine burst in his stomach after he swallowed it, the 5th Circuit ruled.
The New Orleans-based appeals court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the family of deceased prisoner Daniel Tamez failed to show that police officers or jail officials were aware or should have been aware of any huge risk to Tamez’s health, because he repeatedly told them he was not on drugs.
During a medical assessment, a prison nurse noticed that Tamez’s pupils were dilated, causing her to reject his medical clearance and refer him to a 24-hour medical center. But the nurse did not find anything to suggest that Tamez needed emergency medical care, because he denied taking drugs.
Prison officials did not take Tamez for medical attention immediately, as the nurse expected, but the court said officials had no reason to believe Tamez was in danger, as medical clearances were regularly denied for even the most minor medical issues.
Tamez was taken to the hospital after one of the jailers noticed that Tamez’s clothes were wet. He died there.
Law enforcement and prison officials were not “deliberately indifferent” to Tamez’s need for medical attention in violation of the 14th Amendment, the 5th Circuit concluded. The three-judge panel affirmed summary judgment for the defendants.