TEXARKANA, Texas–LaSalle Corrections, a private jail management company that once oversaw operations at the Bowie County jail, is in settlement negotiations over a lawsuit with the family of an HIV positive woman who they claim was subjected to inhumane treatment before her death at a local hospital, according to court records.
Holly Barlow Austin, 47, suffered as she languished in her cell in the downtown Texarkana jail without medication she needed to support her immune system. She was locked up on April 5, 2019, on a warrant stemming from a motion to revoke a misdemeanor probation. She died of meningitis less than a week after being taken by ambulance from the jail to an area emergency room on June 15, 2019.
During her confinement, Holly began to develop severe headaches, a lump in her neck and dizziness before becoming completely blind. Surveillance footage from the jail showed that she crawled around her cell for days, feeling for a cup of water or something she could eat. Nursing staff failed to perform even basic monitoring of her vital signs, according to the lawsuit.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Texarkana in the Eastern District of Texas granted a motion to put the case on hold while both sides iron out the details of a settlement agreement. The terms of the settlement are currently unknown.
A status report filed Tuesday in the case informs the court that “settlement papers, which were executed on March 23, 2023, and provided to LaSalle defendants’ counsel on March 24, 2023, call for the receipt of all settlement funds no later than April 23, 2023.”
The report goes on to say that a motion to dismiss the case and remove it from the court’s active docket will be filed once the agreement is finalized.
Bowie County was dropped as a defendant from the case earlier this month on a motion from lawyers representing Austin’s estate, mother and husband. Erik Heipt of Budge & Heipt in Seattle and David Carter of Mercy Carter in Texarkana represent the plaintiffs.
LaSalle opted to end its contract with Bowie County in February 2021 following a series of lawsuits against the company stemming from in-custody deaths that occurred under the for-profit jail management company’s watch.
Below we review some of the cases against LaSalle in Bowie County. The company has also been accused of jail mismanagement in other jurisdictions.
Michael Sabbie 2015
Sabbie, 35, was taken into custody July 19, 2015, on a misdemeanor charge by police in Texarkana, Ark., following a verbal dispute with his wife. He was found dead in his cell early on the morning of July 22, 2015.
In the days after his arrest, Sabbie repeatedly complained of shortness of breath but was deemed by jail staff to be faking or exaggerating his symptoms. Despite being a diabetic with high blood pressure, nursing staff never checked his blood sugar level and didn’t monitor his blood pressure, according to his family’s lawsuit.
After a court hearing on the afternoon of July 21, 2015, where Sabbie was allowed to sit because of his obvious breathing issues, Sabbie again complained about his breathing to jail employees. Video surveillance showed he was standing in a tripod position in a jail hallway when he started to walk toward an area where inmates may use a phone.
A jailer grabbed him by his shirt and forced Sabbie to the floor. A group of correctional officers piled on top of him as a staff member pepper sprayed his face. Sabbie repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” before the officers threw him into his cell with his pants around his ankles and without decontaminating him adequately from the chemical agent.
A photo taken by jailers a couple of hours later showed Sabbie was in the same position – pants down, genitals exposed – with white foam in his mouth. Expert reports mentioned in the lawsuit include a suspicion that Sabbie had died within hours of the encounter – and may have been deceased when his photo was snapped – but jailers didn’t check his cell after taking his picture until the following morning.
Sabbie’s family settled their case with LaSalle in 2019.
Morgan Angerbauer 2016
Angerbauer was a severely diabetic 20-year-old who was placed in a medical observation cell by a LaSalle nurse after she was picked up on an administrative violation of probation in a drug possession case on June 28, 2016.
In the early morning hours of July 1, 2016, Angerbauer was recorded on video surveillance banging on the door of her cell, begging for help. Despite being just a few feet from the nurse’s station, no checks were performed on her for hours, in violation of Texas jail standards. Earlier in her stay at the jail, a licensed vocational nurse had told Angerbauer that she, not the inmate, would decide when her medical needs were addressed.
At around 5 a.m. that day, the nurse did enter Angerbauer’s cell. Angerbauer was unresponsive and lying in her own vomit. The nurse spent 45 minutes attempting to revive Angerbauer and waived off offers from jailers to call an ambulance. Rather than call 911, the nurse put glucose in Angerbauer’s mouth – pure sugar – when Angerbauer was in a state of ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition that occurs when a person’s blood sugar reaches extremely high levels.
The nurse in that case was sentenced to serve time in the Miller County, Arkansas, jail after pleading guilty to misdemeanor negligent homicide.
Angerbauer’s family settled their case with LaSalle in 2020.
Franklin Greathouse 2019
Greathouse was booked into the Bowie County jail March 10, 2019, on a forgery warrant.
The next day, he told a nurse that he thought he’d suffered a seizure. His complaint was dismissed by nursing staff who noted that he was able to talk and walk. He was found dead around 7 p.m. that evening by a fellow inmate.
A review by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards determined that officers were not performing routine cell checks as required.
Greathouse’s family settled their lawsuit with LaSalle in 2021.
Michael Rodden 2019
Rodden, 48, hanged himself in his one-man cell with two socks fashioned together and tied to a bolt on July 6, 2019.
At the time of his arrest July 3, 2019, Rodden made suicidal statements that should have resulted in placement on suicide watch, according to a lawsuit filed by his family. Rodden had also been the subject of an email circulated among local law enforcement warning that he had expressed a desire to end his life and might be prone to “commit suicide by cop.”
As in the other cases, video surveillance reviewed by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards showed that jail staff had falsified records to indicate cell checks were performed when they were not.
Rodden’s family settled their lawsuit with LaSalle in 2021.
Management of the jail was assumed by the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office after LaSalle pulled out in February 2021.