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Tyler, Texas

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Bruce Roberts
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Harris County, Texas jury finds County not liable for inmate's death.

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The estate of a former inmate at Harris County Jail filed suit against Harris County, Texas for violating his civil rights during a 20 day jail stay. The inmate died hours after being discharged from the jail. According to the lawsuit, the inmate, Jimmie Lee O’Neal died of congestive heart failure within hours after being discharged from the county jail. The lawsuit claims that the county violated the inmate’s civil rights by denying him medications he needed.

According to documents introduced into evidence at the trial, the staff at the jail appeared not to believe the inmate was ill. According to the records, the nurses refused to take him to the clinic because he had already been four times. A deputy wrote that O’Neal was faking his illness even though he had been vomiting and apparently had not had a bowel movement in up to 14 days.

The estate was seeking approximately $2,000,000.00 in damages for the estate of O’Neal as well as damages for his wife and 14 year old daughter.

In closing arguments Monday afternoon, Keys (the County’s attorney) said neither the county’s policies nor employees failed O’Neal. “No one acted with subjective, deliberate intent to harm Jimmie O’Neal,” Keys said. “We did not deny him medical care. O’Neal was prescribed three drugs by jail physicians.

“What more could we have done knowing what we knew?” Keys said. But Eva O’Neal testified that she told jail officials her grandson required eight medications, which she brought to the jail. “I just feel like if they would have accepted the medication I had for him, he would have been here today,” she said.

Dr. Michael Seale, who was the jail’s medical director in 2003, testified that inmates cannot bring medications into the jail, which has a pharmacy.