TEXARKANA, Texas — A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Texarkana seeks damages from jail management company LaSalle Corrections, Bowie County, the City of Texarkana, Texas, and individual LaSalle employees in the March 2019 death of a detainee.
The complaint, filed on behalf of the daughter and estate of Franklin Brooks Greathouse, alleges the death was not an isolated incident and "goes to the very heart of everything that's wrong with the privatization of America's county jails."
LaSalle recently opted to pull out of managing the Bowie County jail located on the fourth floor of the downtown Bi-State Justice Building and the annex located behind it. Bowie County Sheriff's Office will take over mid-February. LaSalle began managing Bowie County's jail in February 2013.
The company's decision to leave Bowie County follows undisclosed settlements in a number of lawsuits alleging wrongful death and personal injury against LaSalle.
The complaint filed on behalf of Greathouse's daughter, Miracle Greathouse, and Greathouse's estate by Texarkana lawyer David Carter mentions the in-custody deaths of Michael Sabbie in 2015 and Morgan Angerbauer in 2016. Also noted is the case of William Scott Jones, a man who claims he has suffered permanent disability following a beating in the jail in 2018 and Holly Barlow-Austin, who died in a local hospital in 2019 after leaving the lockup.
LaSalle did not immediately respond to emails asking for comment.
Greathouse was arrested and booked into the Bowie County jail at around 10 p.m. March 10, 2019, on a warrant for forgery issued in Miller County, Arkansas. The following morning, Greathouse complained to jail staff that he suffered a seizure. Licensed Vocational Nurse Tiffany Hill, who is named as an individual defendant in the suit, allegedly spoke with Greathouse as he sat on the floor in a dayroom in the jail at about 11 a.m. the next day, but did not take his vital signs or complete any medical assessment.
According to a custodial death report prepared by the Bowie County Sheriff's Office and submitted to the Texas Attorney General, jail staff may not have believed Greathouse was ill.
"Greathouse was responsive and able to walk to his own cell within F-Pod; dispelling his claim of seizure," the report states.
At around 7 p.m. that night, Greathouse was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell by another inmate. Lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.
The suit alleges that Correctional Officer Alton Portley not only failed to conduct routine, state-mandated, cell checks on Greathouse but falsified records to show he had. Falsification of jail records is a felony under Texas state law though no LaSalle staff member has been charged with the offense.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards conducted an inspection following Greathouse's death that involved reviewing video footage to determine if staff conducted the face to face observations required by state law every 60 minutes.
"It was determined that jail staff falsified their observation logs to reveal 8, 60-minutes face to face observations that did not in fact occur," the complaint states. "LaSalle staff had done the same in the hours leading to the deaths of Michael Sabbie and Morgan Angerbauer."
Other individual defendants named in the suit are LaSalle Warden James McCormick and nursing supervisor Michelle Arnold. They are accused of failing to properly train and supervise correctional and medical staff.
The only former LaSalle staff member who worked in Bowie County's jail to face criminal charges is Brittany Johnson. Johnson, a former nurse, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor negligent homicide in the death of Morgan Angerbauer, a diabetic 20-year-old in jail for an administrative violation of probation.
The lawsuit lists several more cases that it says has similar patterns and outcomes.
The complaint also notes deaths in other Texas jails run by LaSalle including two deaths in Johnson County, two at a detention center run by LaSalle in Waco and two deaths in Parker County.
"In the years leading up to the death of Greathouse, LaSalle-run facilities in Texas routinely failed state inspections," the complaint states. "According to Brandon Wood, the Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, LaSalle had 'continued noncompliance issues' in Texas, more than other jail operators in the state."
The suit notes that state lawmakers have scrutinized LaSalle for taking advantage of a legal loophole that allows for the hiring of "temporarily licensed" corrections officers who have not completed required training.
"This is yet another case of LaSalle Corrections putting profits before people. Mr. Greathouse was charged with a misdemeanor and died from medical complications because his pleas for help were ignored," Carter said Monday. "He never even had a chance to appear before a judge. We have seen this same scenario play out time and time again."
The complaint asks the court to award compensatory damages including for Greathouse's mental and physical pain and suffering and loss of life as well as medical and burial expenses. Damages for Greathouse's family's loss of their loved one and punitive damages are also sought.
U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III has been assigned the case in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas.