Lawsuit claims police failed to prevent suicide

August 13, 2008 12:34:03 PM PDT
Between the time Arturo Chavez was arrested for driving without a license and the day he was found hanging in his cell at the Galveston County Jail, the 17-year-old undocumented immigrant had grown increasingly despondent about the prospect of being deported to Guatemala. But, in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, Chavez's family alleges that jail officials took no measures to protect the troubled teenager or to prevent the suicide. Instead, they say, Chavez was placed in solitary confinement, with infrequent checks by jail officials.

The lawsuit also claims League City police officers used excessive force after arresting the 5-foot-3, 125-pound Chavez on Aug. 1. According to police, Chavez tried to escape by running from the police station and into the parking lot.

The lawsuit claims at least four officers surrounded Chavez, who clung to a chain-link fence, struck him repeatedly with a baton and tased him in the back. No officer reported any injuries and Chavez was not charged with assault, said Randall Kallinen, the attorney representing Chavez's family.

Calls to League City Police Department and the Galveston County Sheriff's Department, which oversees the jail, were not immediately returned. Galveston County Sheriff Gean Leonard is also named in the suit.

After Chavez was arrested, he was taken to a nearby hospital then transferred to the Galveston County Jail, where officials were warned of Chavez's declining mental state, the lawsuit says. As an undocumented immigrant, Chavez faced deportation back to his native Guatemala.

On Aug. 4, Chavez was found hanging from a jail-issued blanket tied to an overhead shower nozzle, Kallinen said.

"The Galveston County Jail lacked the proper procedure that a very suicidal person needed, especially a minor who is more susceptible to suicide," said Kallinen.

Chavez, who came from Guatemala about four years ago, was a student at Clear Creek High School in League City and worked at Dos Mas Mexican Restaurant. He lived with an older brother and uncle, and every week sent $150 to his parents in Guatemala, Kallinen said.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chavez's family in the U.S. District Court in Galveston, seeks more than $75,000 in damages, changes to jail practices and policies to prevent suicides, and policies regulating the use of Tasers and batons by League City police.

      Headlines at a glance | News in your community | RSS feeds
           Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes


Load Comments