Jasper Officials Lose Appeal in Inmate Death Case
Sims v. Griffin (5th Cir. 2022)
On January 28, 2019, Mitchell Qualls was arrested by the Jasper Police Department for Public Intoxication. He was taken to the Jasper Police Department jail and booked in shortly after 10:00 p.m. Police officers did not change Mitchell into jail clothing but instead left him in his street clothes. Officers then locked up Mitchell in the “detox” cell. Mitchell would not leave the jail alive.
Officers knew before arresting Mitchell that he was exhibiting bizarre behavior and talking to his reflection in a glass door at a local hospital (where he was arrested). They also knew that he made no sense when trying to communicate. Officers also knew that Mitchell’s impairment was likely due to drugs.
According to records, Mitchell was not provided any medical or mental health care once he was incarcerated in the Jasper jail. Several people working for the Jasper Police Department attempted to communicate with Mitch, without success. Mitchell would talk as though he was talking to a non-existent person. He would open his mouth to speak, but would say no words. He hallucinated. Mitchell couldn’t even stand up. He vomited twice during the second night of incarceration, vomiting up a baggie that a police officer noted was the type used to hold drugs. The officer simply threw the baggie away and went on with his business.
Roughly 33 hours after Mitchell was put into a jail cell in Jasper, he died of a likely drug overdose. His body was not found for an hour. Rigor mortis had already set in. Mitchell was only 28 years old. A federal lawsuit was filed on March 30, 2020 on behalf of Mitchell’s family.
Constitutional rights lawyer Dean Malone represents the family. Mr. Malone said, “Mitchell needed help, and it would have been apparent to anyone that he would not have appeared intoxicated for more than a few hours after arrest. When Mitchell began throwing up – even a baggie that likely contained drugs when ingested – it was even more obvious that he needed emergency medical treatment. Instead, he was just left in the cell. A young man arrested for public intoxication should not die alone in a cell, with no treatment, in vomit-stained clothing. Our society is better than that.”
After suit was filed, Defendants, including City of Jasper, filed a motion for summary judgment. The motion asked the court to find against Mitchell’s mother on all claims. The federal court denied the motion to the extent it sought a judgment in favor of the City of Jasper as well as some individual Defendants. Certain Defendants appealed the court’s order only approximately 12 days before trial. Defendants lost their appeal on June 1, 2022, and the court issued an 11-page opinion. A copy of the opinion is attached to this press release.
Attorney Malone said, “We are glad that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor. Nobody should have to suffer like Mitchell did, and we look forward to a jury’s decision about his horrific ordeal. Hopefully, Defendants will not attempt to further delay the case by seeking reconsideration of the three-judge ruling, or trying to get the Supreme Court to rule against the court of appeals.”