Texas County Settles Suit Over Man’s Death in Police Custody a Decade Ago

Harris County officials said the facts of the case called for a settlement because they were “eerily similar” to the murder of George Floyd: an unarmed Black man died with an officer pressing a boot into his face.

(Image by Yildiray Yücel Kamanmaz from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

HOUSTON (CN) — A Texas county has agreed to pay a $4.75 million settlement to the parents of a man who died in 2010 after a deputy constable placed his boot over his mouth while he was lying unresponsive on the ground.

Jamail Joseph Amron, a 23-year-old Black and Iranian man, had trouble breathing after he took a small amount of cocaine on Sept. 30, 2010, at an apartment complex in Spring, a northern Houston suburb.

He called 911 and walked to a Burger King. Its manager gave him a cup of water.

Several Harris County deputy constables and paramedics arrived. And though Amron was sitting on a curb calmly drinking his water, one of the deputies handcuffed him and dragged him to an ambulance.

He broke away and ran toward the restaurant. Four officers tackled him, held him down and had paramedics inject a sedative into him, the restaurant’s manager Cindy Lansdale testified in a deposition. Commonly called officers and police, Texas constables and their deputies serve legal papers and are bailiffs in courtrooms. They also patrol neighborhoods and investigate crimes.

Amron’s body went slack and as he lied supine on the ground Deputy Constable Kevin Vailes put his boot over his nose and mouth. Lansdale estimated Vailes held his boot on Amron’s face for two to five minutes.

After 15 minutes in which no medics or officers checked Amron’s vital signs, Lansdale said, he was loaded onto an ambulance and taken away. Officers then marked the scene with yellow tape and Lansdale testified one of them told her Amron had died. 

In September 2012, his parents Barbara Coats and Ali Amron sued Harris County, the Harris County Constable’s Office Precinct 4, seven of its officers, 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.

Amron’s parents were awarded $11 million in 2017 after a jury in the county seat Houston found Vailes liable for his death, and Harris County at fault for not barring deputies from placing their feet on people in their custody.

But a state appeals court reduced the award to $1 million in February 2020 and deemed Vailes alone responsible for paying it. Vailes, who still works for the constable’s office, found a way to avoid paying the judgment: he declared bankruptcy and got it discharged.

With appeals from Amron’s parents still pending, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, the first Black person elected as the county’s chief lawyer, announced late last month he had taken the advice of his staff attorneys, who recommended settling the case after evaluating the facts of the incident, the legal issues and the history of the case.

“After nearly a decade in the courts, I am glad this lawsuit—which I inherited from my predecessor—has come to a close,” Menefee told the Houston Chronicle.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Amron’s death reminded her of George Floyd, a Black man whose death in police custody resulted in the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last month. Hidalgo is the county’s elected chief executive, not a court judge.

“In 2010 Jamail Amron died handcuffed & under the foot of a Harris County constable. The facts of his case were eerily similar to George Floyd’s. We’ve signed off on County Attorney Christian D. Menefee settling the family’s long-standing suit against the county, and giving them the justice they deserve,” she wrote on social media. 

Despite the settlement, Amron’s father told the Chronicle it brings him no comfort because no money can bring back his son.

“We don’t even think about the money. It does not help me get justice,” said Ali Amron, who has vowed to keep fighting for an official investigation.

Amron’s autopsy says he died of cocaine poisoning. But an expert hired by his family found he’d suffocated as there was little cocaine in his system. 

Amron, who would have turned 35 in February, had a lot going for him. 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.
     

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