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Dallas County to Settle Two Jail Inmate Lawsuits

Dallas County commissioners voted Tuesday to settle two federal jail neglect lawsuits for close to a half-million dollars.

County officials say the lawsuits are the last major legal claims related to prior conditions in the jail system, which were described a few years ago by federal investigators as being dangerous to inmates’ well-being.

As a result of the settlements, the family of former inmate Rosie Sims will receive $250,000, and former inmate Bruce A. McDonald will receive $190,000, minus legal expenses.

Sims, 60, who was mentally ill, died in the Dallas County jail in 2005.

Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, claiming she died of pneumonia after guards and a nurse refused to take her to the infirmary.

Sims, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, spent more than a year and a half in the jail awaiting trial before her death.

She didn’t receive medical treatment or “even a routine physical examination” during that time, according to the lawsuit. The guards found Ms. Sims lying on the floor in her own waste after she collapsed in her cell but didn’t take her to be examined, the suit said.

The story of Sims’ lifelong struggle with schizophrenia and her treatment while in custody were told in a series of articles in The Dallas Morning News in 2006.

McDonald contended in his suit that the county violated his constitutional rights by denying him treatment in the jail after he was punched in the eye by another inmate in 2005.

He said he lost vision in the eye after the injury went untreated for seven weeks despite the fact that doctors said on three different occasions that he needed surgery.

Both lawsuits were headed for trial after the county tried unsuccessfully to have them dismissed.

“They’re definitely acknowledging that there was a problem. They’ll settle when they think they’d get a worse outcome when they go to court,” said Scott Henson, a criminal justice expert.

County Judge Jim Foster said he voted for the settlements because it was “the right thing to do” and because it’s expensive to defend lengthy lawsuits.

Commissioner John Wiley Price called it a “fair resolution to the case” and added that there shouldn’t be any more such settlements down the road.

•In April, a federal jury in Dallas awarded more than $300,000 to former inmate Mark Duvall, who alleged that a staph infection he caught while in jail in 2003 left him blind.

•In 2008, a federal jury ordered the county to pay $900,000 to former inmate Stanley Shepherd for denying him proper medical care while he was in custody in 2003.

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