Family sues to shut down Texas county jail
Family claims a loved one suffering from mental illness died in custody after he was neglected for five days
By Manuella Libardi
BEAUMONT, Texas — An Orange family that filed a lawsuit claiming a loved one suffering from mental illness died in custody after he was neglected for five days is seeking a court order to shut down the Orange County jail.
Robert Montano, 41, died in October 2011 after five days of isolation in a medical unit called "the Bubble." The father of four suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, according to attorneys.
Attorneys with the Bernsen Law Firm of Beaumont hired by Montano's family asked a federal court to shut down the jail because the licensed vocational nurses in charge of medical supervision at the Orange County jail report to another LVN, which violates the Texas Board of Nursing's guidelines.
"The supervision has to be, it's very prescribed, a (registered nurse), an (advanced practice registered nurse), a nurse practitioner or a doctor," said attorney Christine Stetson. "And these (LVNs) do not and have not (reported to the required professionals) for the better part of 20 years."
Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough said he cannot comment on pending lawsuits. Attorneys "can make any allegations they want," he said.
The Orange County jail can hold up to 326 inmates. If the facility shut down, its current inmate population of about 200 would have to be transferred to neighboring counties' jails.
Stetson said that the nurses at the Orange County jail don't have the necessary training or qualifications to provide diagnostic medical care.
According to the Nursing Practice Act, "the practice of vocational nursing must be performed under the supervision of a registered nurse, physician, physician assistant, podiatrist, or dentist."
Stetson referred to a 2012 case in which Tammy Williams, 31, also died in the Orange County jail from a ruptured pulmonary artery a week after her arrest.
The Orange County jail has five LVNs on staff and two contract physicians who come "several times a week" or as needed, said Chief Deputy Clint Hodgkinson.
The request to close the jail follows a lawsuit filed last year by the family against Orange County contending Montano's civil rights were violated.
The earlier lawsuit, still pending in federal court, says Montano was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication when he had a psychotic episode.
His family's attorneys said the jailers and nurses neglected Montano for days while he went through extended periods of incoherence and violent outbursts during which he harmed himself.
"He couldn't say, 'Please, take me to the hospital' or 'Let me see a doctor'," Stetson said. "He had to rely on (the LVNs) to do for it for him."
Because of his extended outbursts, jailers taped paper over the cell windows, the attorneys said.
"He was annoying them," said attorney Ryan MacLeod, who also is working on the case.
Nurses periodically would look in but not examine Montano, who after several hours of quiet was found dead on Oct. 12, 2011.
The suit says the former Jefferson County forensic pathologist, Dr. Tommy Brown, determined that Montano's death resulted from renal failure, as a result of bath salts toxicity. The toxicology report showed no such intoxication.
Because of his precarious mental state, Montano refused food and water for five days, which caused his kidneys to shut down, MacLeod said.
MacLeod said a neighbor had called police on the evening they arrested Montano, believing him to be under the influence of bath salts.
"It's a statement that spread like wildfire," MacLeod said. "There was no basis for it at all."