Paraplegic accuses Brazoria Co. jailers of brutality

Annie Cosby Dec. 22, 2014, 8:34am


A Matagorda County paraplegic is suing over claims jailers placed him in a submission hold and broke his leg while he was held on a warrant for a traffic violation.

Curby Harkless filed a lawsuit Oct. 17 in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas against Brazoria County, the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office and Brazoria County Jail, citing the Civil Rights Act.

According to the complaint, Harkless is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, and on Oct. 17, while he was riding as a passenger in a vehicle in Brazoria County, law enforcement stopped the vehicle and found Harkless had an outstanding traffic warrant. Harkless says a transport officer from the Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office arrived to transport him to Brazoria County Jail, and the officer stated that he hated to take Hartless to the jail because "it was no place for him."

After taking Harkless to the justice of peace in West Columbia so that a bond could be set, the officer took Harkless to the jail while a friend of Harkless' took money from him and paid a bondsmen who posted bond.

According to the lawsuit, Harkless was booked into the jail and after waiting a considerable amount of time, he had use the restroom. The complaint states Harkless must use a catheter to empty his bladder due to his paraplegia, but his catheter had been taken from him, so he knocked on the window when a jailer walked by, to which the jailer responded by saying, with obscenities, that Harkless should not knock on the window anymore.

Harkless says he waited another considerable amount of time, but when noticed he was leaking urine onto his clothes, he again knocked on the window to get the jailer's attention, to which the jailer replied, "I got something for you," and, along with three other jailers, wheeled Harkless to a back cell with no windows, where they put Harkless face down on the ground, pulled his shirt over his head, and lifted his arms and legs while holding down his back.

Harkless says one of the jailers appeared to be recording the incident, and when he told the jailers he was in pain, particularly a pain in his left leg, they placed knees to his head and neck, continuing to push down his back while pulling up on his arms and legs. According to the lawsuit, when Harkless could hold his breath no longer, he sputtered, "Can't breathe," and the jailers jumped away.

The lawsuit states he told the jailers he needed medical treatment for his injured leg, to which they responded with silence, stripped him of his clothes and left the room with his wheelchair, leaving him to lie naked in a pool of his own urine. Harkless says he lay there for several hours until a the jailers entered the cell with a woman, whom Harkless assumed to be a nurse, and Harkless attempted to cover himself with his hands. The complaint states the jailers yelled at him to put his hands behind his back, and he complied, but the woman merely looked at him briefly, without coming near him and then left.

According to the complaint, Harkless was left overnight until a jailer returned the following morning with his urine-soaked clothes and wheelchair and released him. Harkless says a family member was waiting for him at the exit and demanded to speak to someone at the jail about the condition of his leg and the incident, and she was told to wait for someone to come speak with her. The complaint states no one came.

The lawsuit states that after helping Harkless change into clean clothes, the family member took him to Matagorda Regional Medical Center, where an X-ray confirmed a separated spiral fracture of the right femur bone, and he was transferred to Memorial Hermann Hospital for further treatment.

The jailers are accused of violating the plaintiff's 4th Amendment right to be free from excessive force while in detention or custody of law enforcement. The defendants are accused of failing to provide supervision and proper training to prevent instances of excessive force, including this instance of putting the plaintiff in a submission hold and breaking his leg. The complaint also notes that the defendants were aware of the issue of excessive violence as there was a similar incident on Sept. 14, 2012, involving their law enforcement officers.

Harkless seeks actual damages, including medical expenses, attorney fees, and costs. He is represented by attorney Leland M. Irwin of The Irwin Law Firm in Richmond.

Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas case number: 3:14-CV-00329

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