The lawsuit of a father against three jailhouse guards over the death of his 38-year-old son can be heard by a jury, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled. This ruling reverses a federal judge’s decision that the guards were shielded by qualified immunity, a legal doctrine in federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity.
Bonny Edward Taylor filed the lawsuit on behalf of the estate of Almus Taylor alleging the guards deprived his son’s civil rights because they were “deliberately indifferent to Almus’ serious medical needs.”
The case was initially assigned to Judge Keith Watkins in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. It was reassigned to Judge Keith Starrett of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in Hattiesburg when the Alabama court was short-handed in 2017-2018. Judge Starrett dismissed the case on the grounds of qualified immunity and state-agent immunity.
“We’re just glad that they’ve seen fit to reverse it,” Mike Crow of Beasley Allen Law Firm told the Daily Report. “I told the clients what happened today, and they were elated that we’ll be going forward.” Crow represented Taylor along with his Beasley Allen law partners Parker Miller and Dana Taunton.
Almus Taylor was arrested Nov. 16, 2013, after wrecking his truck while driving to his cabin at his deer-hunting club in south Alabama. Although Almus appeared injured to law enforcement who arrived on the scene, he refused to get into the ambulance without his two dogs. The emergency medical services (EMS) team told him the dogs were not allowed. The EMS team refused his request, so they asked him to sign a release stating that he did not want to go to the hospital. “Almus was unable to sign the release, but the EMS team accepted Almus making a mark on the form,” said Judge Ronald Gilman, who wrote the opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Memphis.
The guards believed Almus was intoxicated and put him in a holding cell. The trooper told the guards Almus was “medically cleared,” however his family later learned that he had three broken ribs, a lacerated liver, and a punctured lung.
Other detainees reported that for several hours, Almus cried out in pain and begged for medical help. The guards allegedly told Almus to “shut up.”
“If Almus was begging for medical help, crying out in pain and informing the guards that he was dying, then a reasonable jury could conclude that a lay person would recognize the need for a doctor’s attention,” Gilman wrote. “In addition, a jury could conclude that the guards’ willful disregard of what they heard and observed during the night made them deliberately indifferent to Almus’ serious medical needs.
A nurse who arrived early the next morning called an ambulance when she found Almus spitting up blood. Almus died en route to the hospital from internal bleeding.
His family also sued the EMS, which settled the case for an undisclosed sum.