Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Texas Juries Issue Warnings to District Attorney, County Jail Officials But Don't Hold Anyone Criminally Liable.

Juries usually have a single, solid voice that answers "guilty" or "innocent," simple as that -- but that's not what is happening in the State of Texas today when it's public officials like the Harris County District Attorney's Office or those responsible for running the Travis County Jail that have been called on the carpet.

Austin Jury

This week, a federal jury down in Austin spent lots of time hearing testimony and reviewing evidence about the case of Rachel Jackson, a 21 year old woman who died while she was being held in the Del Valle Jail (part of Travis County) under a “psych lockdown.”

The Jackson family argued that Travis County and its jail psychiatrist, Dr. John S. Ford, were responsible for the young woman's tragic death in a jail cell because Dr. Ford prescribed thioridazine to inmate Jackson but he failed (among other things) to follow the warnings on the drug packaging to check her potassium levels as well as her heart's electrical activity before giving her the antipsychotic drug. If he had bothered to do so, the family argued, then he would have known that thioridazine can cause sudden death by causing the heart to beat out of its normal rhythm.

You can read the warning for yourself online: seems pretty serious and pretty long for someone - especially a doctor - to just disregard.

There was also evidence presented at trial that the inmate told her Travis County jailers that her heart was racing, to which the jailer did not get her medically checked out; and that days later, she told a Travis County jail nurse that she was having chest pains, and that the jail nurse did not record in her file any of her vital signs at the time.

The family of Rachel Jackson sued Travis County for her wrongful death, but the jury did not find that the county was responsible for the woman's death. So the family loses its lawsuit.

Here's the thing: most always, all we would know from the jury was their verdict. Period. However, in this case the federal trial judge, the Honorable Sam Sparks, approved the jury's request that a written statement they had compiled there in the jury room be read into the record.

So, the jury foreman stood up there in the courtroom, just as forepersons do whenever they announced they have reached a decision, and read a statement that the jury couldn't find that Travis County was the proximate cause of Rachel Jackson's death, they " see significant opportunity for improvement in the processes, documentation and communication within the Travis County Correctional Center."

Houston Jury

We've been monitoring the Grand Jury investigation of the Houston BAT Van Controversy (read all the details here) and now, the Grand Jury has spoken: the Harris County District Attorney's Office will not face any indictments for criminal wrongdoing.

Once again, however, there's the unusual twist to the story: the jury isn't speaking in the usual way, in the decision it has handed down. No. This jury has also sat together and drafted a joint statement, which has been released to the public.

A one-page statement from the jury was read by Grand Jury foreman Trisha Pollard, which criticized the Harris County District Attorney's Office for its "unexpected resistance" to the investigatory process and singled out Harris County prosecutor Rachel Palmer for invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify in order to avoid self-incrimination. The grand jury's statement also accused the District Attorney's office of investigating the grand jurors themselves as well as the special prosecutors assigned to oversee the case.

All that being revealed, the Grand Jury still found that "there was no evidence of a crime" on the part of the Harris County District Attorney's Office and so no indictments would be issued.

Jury Statements Are Worth What, Exactly?

These jury statements may make the jurors feel better, but legally they do squat. Verdicts are what count with juries. And in both of these instances, the public officials have been found innocent of a death and of tampering with the judicial process of fair trials, etc.

When juries have this much doubt and concern, one has to remember that where there is smoke there is fire and that something smells bad in Texas today.