Jasper Appeals Federal Court Order in Jail Inmate Death Case

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Beaumont, Texas – On January 28, 2019, Mitchell Qualls was arrested by the Jasper Police Department for Public Intoxication.  He was taken to the Jasper Police Department jail / holding facility and booked in shortly after 10:00 p.m.  Police officers did not change Mitchell into appropriate jail clothing but instead left him in his street clothes. He was then locked up in the “detox” cell so that he could “sober up.”

Officers knew before arresting Mitchell that he was exhibiting bizarre behavior, talking to his reflection in a glass door at a local hospital (where he was arrested).  They also knew that he made no sense when trying to communicate.  Officers also knew that Mitchell’s impairment was likely due to illegal drugs, and not alcohol.

According to records, Mitchell was not provided any medical or mental health care once he was incarcerated in the Jasper jail.  Several people working for the Jasper Police Department attempted to communicate with Mitchell, without success.  Mitchell would talk as though he was talking to a non-existent person.  He would open his mouth to speak, but would speak no words.  He vomited twice during the second night of incarceration.  One such time, a police officer found in the vomit a baggie like that used to hold drugs. The officer simply threw the baggie away and went on with his business.

Roughly 33 hours after Mitchell was put into a jail cell in Jasper, he died of a likely drug overdose.  Mitchell was only 28 years old.

A federal lawsuit was filed on March 30, 2020, in Beaumont, on behalf of Mitchell’s family.  The lawsuit claims that Defendants violated Mitchell’s constitutional rights to reasonable medical/mental health care, to be protected, and not to be punished as a pre-trial detainee.  The lawsuit also alleges that the City of Jasper violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.

Constitutional rights lawyer Dean Malone represents the family.  Mr. Malone said, “Mitchell needed help, and it would have been apparent to anyone that he would not have appeared intoxicated for more than a few hours after arrest.  When Mitchell began throwing up – even a baggie that likely contained drugs when ingested – it was even more obvious that he needed emergency medical treatment.  Instead, he was just left in the cell.  A young man arrested for public intoxication should not die alone in a cell, with no treatment, in vomit-stained clothing.  Our society is better than that.”

After suit was filed, the parties conducted discovery, which is the exchange of evidence and the taking of depositions under oath. Defendants, including City of Jasper, filed a motion for summary judgment. The motion asked the court to find against Mitchell’s mother on all claims. The federal court denied the motion to the extent it sought a judgment in favor of the City of Jasper as well as several individual Defendants. Defendants appealed the court’s order only approximately twelve (12) days before trial. The appeal will likely delay trial for months if not years.

Attorney Malone also said, “Appeals in the middle of a case regarding qualified immunity defenses slow justice for the families of those who die in Texas jails. Due to Defendants being able to file potentially several appeals of a court’s denial of a qualified immunity defense, constitutional rights cases arising from alleged jail neglect can take years to go to trial. I have had clients die in the middle of cases, waiting for justice. Hopefully, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will find in our favor and allow Mitchell’s case to go to trial sooner rather than later.”