'He Was Disrespected': Dallas County Jailer's Family Denied Benefits After On-Duty Death

Damon Finney, an officer at Dallas County Jail, died of COVID-19 complications in August. His family is still waiting for the compensation state law law says they are owed.
Damon Finney, an officer at Dallas County Jail, died of COVID-19 complications in August. His family is still waiting for the compensation state law law says they are owed. Tiffany Touissant
Damon Finney’s wife knew he was sick when they set off on their honeymoon on July 27, but she didn't imagine it was coronavirus and never expected it would kill him. The response to his death from his employer, the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, was another bitter surprise.

“He didn’t want to mess with just sitting in the room and trying to get himself better,” said Tiffany Touissant, his wife. “He wanted us to go out and enjoy the moment, and he kept saying, ‘I want to make sure that you have fun.’"

For months before they left for Las Vegas, Finney, then 50, had been working frequent overtime shifts at the Dallas County Jail, in compliance with the mandatory 16-hour shifts his ranking officers had imposed during the pandemic as detention officers’ numbers dwindled.

Finney, a 15-year veteran detention officer at the jail, was also determined to save enough to buy a house with Touissant after they got married. He saw the mandated shifts and the ample overtime hours they presented as an opportunity to move towards that goal, Touissant explained.

“He had asthma, and he was terrified. Because we did do the research. We knew, you know, there are certain illnesses that enhance the chances of making COVID-19 worse,” Touissant said. “But he kept pushing himself to keep going, keep going.”

Touissant and Finney met when they both worked as detention officers at Dallas County Jail in 2010. Touissant left the jail for a corporate security gig in North Dallas in 2012 but remained close with Finney. They would play pool on the weekends or catch new movies in the theater.

“He was a horror guy,” Touissant said, laughing. “I could never get into it. But before our honeymoon, he was so into seeing the new Halloween movie, I said OK, and that was gonna be our thing.”

By 2013, Finney and Touissant were dating. That year, they moved into a three-bedroom Arlington apartment along with Touissant’s two kids. When they could both catch a weekend off, they loved to gamble at the Winstar Casino together. They kept on that way, scheming toward a house of their own, for years. For her children, Finney became “the best father figure I could’ve asked for,” Touissant said.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Texas in early 2020, both Touissant and Finney were designated essential workers. Both were all too aware of the risks Finney’s job presented.

Within months, Texas jails had become some of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country. Finney kept working, though.

The couple decided to tie the knot on July 9. Soon after, Finney started getting sick. “He would get bronchitis about two times a year, because of his asthma,” Touissant said. “So, we hoped that was what was happening.”

Finney was clearly sick a few days before the newlyweds departed for Las Vegas in July, said Touissant.

They returned to Arlington on Aug. 4. A few days later, Finney tested positive for COVID-19. He died of complications from the virus on Aug. 14, 2021.

On June 14, two months before Finney’s death, Texas lawmakers passed a law adding detention officers like Finney (and their families) to the list of emergency responders eligible for special compensation benefits if they were injured or killed in "in the line of duty."

The Texas Senate tacked on a follow-up bill six days later, saying that “a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) injury or death is work-related for certain first responders. This includes detention officers, custodial officers, firefighters, peace officers, and emergency medical technicians.”

Benefits for the families of those killed by COVID-19 in the line of duty are included in the bill.

For 48 days after his death, Damon Finney’s remained at the Laurel Land Funeral Home in Arlington, Texas.

For the first few weeks after her husband’s death, Touissant was fighting off COVID-19 herself. She filed a claim for financial compensation as the spouse of an officer killed in the line of duty on Sept. 8 with Dallas County’s Human Resources Department.

A few days later, Ricky Patridge, Dallas County’s risk manager, called her back, she said.

“I was hurt. I expected the Sheriff to pop in, you know, for even just a little bit. My husband worked there for 15 years. He was disrespected. He deserved better than that.” - Tiffany Touissant

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“He said, 'Don’t worry, we’re considering your husband’s death to have occurred in the line of duty',” Touissant recalled.

Partridge did not respond to the Observer’s request for confirmation of this exchange.

Reassured, Touissant waited and grieved. But days became weeks, “and Ricky never called back, never let me know what was going on,” she said.

Finally, more than 40 days after Finney’s death, Laurel Land Funeral Home in Arlington decided they would pay for Finney’s funeral services and the cost of his burial through a program for families of fallen officers run by their parent company.

At Finney’s funeral on Oct. 1, only one chief, a few sergeants and a small crew of Finney’s detention officer colleagues showed up.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office General Orders state that “any Dallas Sheriff’s Department employee.... Killed in the Line of Duty, will receive Full Honors Service,” which includes casket guards from the department, a detail of federal and state law enforcement officials standing guard, plus a spread of other ceremonial personnel honoring the fallen officer.

There were no casket guards, no multi-agency police details, no bagpipers or buglers at Damon Finney’s funeral. Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown didn't attend.

Brown is facing an ongoing federal lawsuit brought by jailers and inmates at Dallas County Jail that alleges unconstitutional levels of negligence in her management of COVID-19 inside the jail.

Brown’s office did not respond to the Observer’s requests for comment.

Meanwhile, it has now been 72 days since Touissant filed a claim with Dallas County’s Human Resources Department.

“I was hurt. I expected the sheriff to pop in, you know, for even just a little bit,” Touissant said. “My husband worked there for 15 years. He was disrespected. He deserved better than that.”
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Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney