Texas judge who ruled to move high-risk inmates to preside over heat-related death

New heat-related inmate death lawsuit

DALLAS - The federal judge who recently ruled the state of Texas had to provide air conditioning for high-risk inmates has another heat-related inmate death case to decide.

This one involves an inmate at another Texas prison. It's a case that was the subject of a News 8 investigation in 2015.

US District Judge Keith Ellison gave Texas prison officials the sweats in July with his scorching decision, ordering them to provide air-conditioning to dozens of at-risk inmates at the Pack Unit in Central Texas.

Just this week, state officials decided to simply move the inmates to an air-conditioned facility at another prison.

Now, Ellison is being asked to rule on a new lawsuit, one filed last week involving the heat-related death of inmate Quintero Jones.

The 37-year old inmate was was at the un-air conditioned McConnell Unit in South Texas. According to his family, Jones had asthma and high blood pressure and was extremely susceptible to the heat.

They say doctors told him to have his inhaler at all times. On July 31, 2015, according to the lawsuit, the heat index inside the prison was near 110 degrees.

The lawsuit alleges on that day, a prison guard took Jones' inhaler away from him.

"All day long, locked up in the heat," said Roy Jones, the victim's father. "That's cruel. To take his asthma pump and know that's the only way he's got to breathe."

Letters from other inmates who witnessed the events say Jones suffered for hours, begging for his inhaler just before he died. The family is now suing the prison system and several prison officials and doctors. The lawsuit claims that since 2007, approximately 23 men have died in Texas prisons from heat-related causes, not just heat stroke. A WFAA investigation that aired in 2015 and another last year revealed 21 cases of asthma-related Texas prison deaths have occurred since 2005.

The Jones lawsuit alleges prison officials "failed to take reasonable steps to prevent those deaths.

"I think a word for it is torture," said attorney Stephen Goetzmann. "It's as torturous as what we've seen and is outlawed throughout the world. To have someone slowly asphyxiate in Dante's Hell is at the bottom level."    

Texas prisons officials have declined to comment on this latest heat death lawsuit. As for the suit, the state lost two weeks ago. State Attorney General Ken Paxton has said he plans on filing an appeal.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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