TDCJ Death Sparks A Lawsuit

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Remember Larry Cox, the former Texas prison inmate who graced the pages of national papers like USA Today after having a run-in with guards about a year ago and was hospitalized with injuries, only to die because of alleged prison medical staff shortages?

Well, Cox’s family recently filed a detailed lawsuit in Houston federal court against Texas, the prison system, the prison hospital and the two guards who allegedly beat him up.

“Typically,” says the Cox family’s civil rights attorney, Christopher Gale, “suits against the State of Texas are hard because there’s so much immunity. But this is just so damn egregious. It’s morbid. So I just said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to file it.’”

According to the lawsuit:

On January 3, 2007, Cox was housed at the Estelle Unit just north of Huntsville. He had been placed in restraints when two corrections officers “proceeded to maliciously and sadistically throw down to the concrete floor and savagely beat him until he bled profusely from the head. During this beating … [the officers] repeatedly slammed [Cox’s] head into his metal bunk and locker causing him severe pain.”

Cox fractured two vertebrae in his neck and was treated by University of Texas Medical Branch workers. They did not detect the broken neck and returned Cox to his cell after giving him “weak pain relievers.”

Over the next two days, Cox lay motionless in his cell, unable to urinate or defecate due to his paralysis. When he told prison guards of his condition, “his pleas for help fell on deaf ears.”

Cox did receive stronger pain killers during the two days following the beating, however he could not take them because he could not walk over to his cell door to fetch them .

On the third day, Cox was moved to a UTMB hospital and was treated for the broken neck. But on February 6, 2007, he died. The medical examiner ruled Cox’s death a homicide “by medical neglect complicating blunt force trauma.”

According to news reports, prison officials have said that Cox was given a CT scan after his scuffle with the guards, which only revealed a broken nose. That first night, they have said, Cox was only given Tylenol because the prison clinic had already closed for the night.

State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said earlier this year that a shortage of medical staff was primarily to blame.

“I don’t think that prison should be nice, should be fun,” says Gale, “but my God, we should not just throw away the key and let people die or kill them. I do a lot of these types of cases and I’ve never seen one so sickening as this one. This is horrible and I’d be surprised if there is anyone who’s not shocked by this.”

In addition to monetary damages, Gale says he will be asking the federal court to consider taking a supervisory role over the state prison department.

“I think there’s a lack of training there’s obviously a lack of compassion,” he says. “I understand the need to be forceful, but forceful to a point. Not to where you’re being sadistic and malicious.”

Gale says that no one has been criminally indicted for harming Cox and that the defendants in the civil lawsuit have not yet been served.

According to news reports, Cox was in prison on a 20-year sentence for burglary with intent to commit sexual assault and later received another 15 years for killing his cellmate.

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