The Dallas County Commissioners Court has just agreed to settle the the James Mims lawsuit that sparked a series of investigations into the troubled Dallas County Jail. Voting unanimously, the commissioners agreed to pay the families of three county inmates $950,000, an extraordinary sum for this type of litigation. Typically, convicted criminals don't make the most sympathetic victims.
But this case was the exception.
In 2004, Mims suffered severe renal failure nearly two weeks after jailors left Mims without water for more than 10 days, as punishment for flooding his cell. A subsequent internal affairs investigation concluded that Mims had slipped "through the cracks." The jail's medical provider at the time, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB), was also to blame.
Although Mims had been found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial over a period of 25 years, having been transferred between Terrell State Hospital and the county jail during that time, UTMB's psychiatric staff failed to follow through on three separate referrals from medical personnel to evaluate him. They also failed to provide his prescribed medication. But because of a loophole in its contract with the county, UTMB was not liable for fatal errors.
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Because his case was the most egregious, Mims received the bulk of the settlement, although families for two other inmates who languished at the Dallas County Jail -- including Clarence Lee Grant, who died at the facility -- also received a hefty pay-out. The county paid an outside law firm, Figari & Davenport, at least $1 million to defend the case, but the white-shoe law firm's strategy of trying to stall and delay by filing a series of motions trying to supress evidence only wound up wasting taxpayer money. It's not clear what exactly the county got out them.
Meanwhile, the Mims settlement is just another reminder of the house of horrors that is the Dallas County Jail. Although Sheriff Jim Bowles ran the jail when Mims and the other inmates were incarcerated, there's little evidence that things have improved under his replacement Lupe Valdez. A recent U.S. Department of Justice report excoriated both the medical care and the management of the jail, while the Texas Commission of Jail Standards has flunked the facility ever year Valdez has been in office.
"Things have improved, but it's marginal -- they still have a long way to go," says attorney David Finn, who, along with Fort Worth lawyers Mark Haney and Jeff Kobs, represented Mims. "If they don't clean up their act quickly, there is a very good chance the DOJ will sue Dallas County and place that jail under federal oversight for five to 10 years."
Which would come about five to 10 years too late. --Matt Pulle