Judge Rules That Jail Death Case Being Handled by Budge & Heipt Will Go Forward

The Texarkana Gazette is reporting on a ruling by a federal judge, allowing a jail death case to go forward despite a motion to dismiss filed by the defense. The case, which is being handled by Budge & Heipt, concerns the death of Michael Sabbie, who died in the Bi-State Jail in Texarkana.

From the November 12, 2017 Texarkana Gazette:

Judge rules suit in jail death can go forward

November 12th, 2017 by Lynn LaRowe in Texarkana News Read Time: 2 mins.

Teresa and Michael Sabbie

Photo by Photo courtesy of Sabbie Family

A federal judge in Texarkana has ruled that a civil suit involving a man who died while in the Bi-State Justice Building jail can go forward.

Michael Sabbie was found dead in his jail cell shortly after 6 a.m. July 22, 2015. He was arrested by Texarkana, Ark., police and booked into the jail on a misdemeanor charge the afternoon of July 19, 2015, following a verbal argument with his wife, according to a complaint filed in May on behalf of Sabbie’s family.

Upon intake, Sabbie told jail staff he suffers from asthma, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Despite his medical conditions and his need for medications to treat them, Sabbie allegedly was given no drugs during his incarceration, and nursing staff failed to conduct even routine monitoring of his blood pressure and blood sugar, even though such testing was ordered by the intake nurse, the complaint states. Sabbie repeatedly showed and complained of symptoms of severe medical distress, which should have moved jail personnel to take him to a hospital but allegedly were ignored, according to the complaint.

Sabbie allegedly told nursing staff he was short of breath and “unable to breathe while lying down” at 3:30 a.m. July 20, 2015. A jail nurse noted that his blood oxygen level was down about 8 percent from the day before and that his heart rate was significantly higher, but allegedly failed to conduct even basic tests that might have illuminated his dire need for treatment, according to the complaint.

Nursing staff allegedly continued to ignore Sabbie’s constant breathing complaints, and officers reportedly wrote him up July 20, 2015, for faking illness and breathing problems.

Sabbie’s worsening condition was allegedly obvious to court staff at a hearing July 21, 2015, and the judge offered to let Sabbie sit during the proceeding. About 4:15 p.m. the same day, jail cameras recorded Sabbie speaking to a correctional officer while holding a tissue to his face and leaning against a wall.

Sabbie briefly moves out of the camera’s view, and the next images depict officers piling on top of Sabbie while one sprays him in the face with a chemical agent as he is pinned beneath them and unable to move.

Sabbie repeatedly states, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” as officers threaten him in a hand-held camera recording with audio. After being placed in a shower, where he appears to momentarily collapse, Sabbie is thrown into his cell. He is discovered dead the following day by officers who open the door after Sabbie fails to respond to their commands to pull up his pants.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven denied a motion to dismiss in a report and recommendations issued Nov. 6 in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas. The complaint, filed on behalf of Sabbie’s family by Erik Heipt and Edwin Budge of Seattle and Texarkana lawyers Matt Soyars and Bruce Flint, names LaSalle Corrections, a private jail management company; Bowie County, Texas; Texarkana, Ark.; and a number of individual LaSalle employees as defendants.

The case is scheduled for a jury trial before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III in Texarkana’s downtown federal building Oct. 22, 2018.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.