This is a story I have heard/seen too many times. Open the whole article; it is so long I have had to edit out much of it. Private prisons are THE worst development in criminal justice! Here we see brutality committed by LaSalle Corrections, a family business that runs the Parker County jail, where 24 out of 77 officers don’t have permanent licenses. If this company is underbidding the two biggest private prison companies, as indicated, you KNOW their training, staffing, and medical care must be God Awful!
Excerpts from the Article:
Andy DeBusk’s family thought a night in jail might save him. It was Christmas Eve of 2016. He was in the Parker County jail in Weatherford, west of Fort Worth, coming down from a meth high. He called his mother to ask for bail money.
Hoping a night in a cell would sober him up, his family decided to wait until Christmas Day to bail him out. But before their holiday dinner was over, the phone rang again: DeBusk was dead.
Video obtained by The Dallas Morning News shows him shackled after guards used pepper spray on him in a cell. Jailers then placed him face down and piled on him, making it hard for him to breathe and contributing to his death at age 38, an autopsy found.
The jail operator has rules that strictly limit the use of pepper spray and bar guards from holding down prisoners in ways known to cause asphyxiation. But at least four jailers that night had virtually no training, state records show. An officer who dug his knee into DeBusk’s back minutes before his death had been on the job just seven weeks and hadn’t gone through any of the state’s mandated instruction.
Every year, thousands of untrained jailers work all over Texas under a loophole that allows jails to employ so-called temporary guards for up to 12 months, The News found. That means these officers haven’t received all 96 hours of the state training that teaches guards how to handle volatile prisoners, when to use force, and what constitutes basic safety techniques.
They are sometimes paid less than licensed jailers.
Many untrained guards work for LaSalle Corrections, a family business that runs the Parker County jail, where 24 out of 77 officers don’t have permanent licenses, according to the county sheriff’s office. The Louisiana-based firm runs the main jails in six of the 10 counties where the most temporary jailers work, according to a News analysis.
We found LaSalle has hired more than 370 jailers with temporary licenses at less than a dozen facilities around the state since 2017. That’s a lot: Half of the agencies that have used temporary jailers since 2017 employed four or fewer.
As LaSalle has amassed a growing empire of county jails, state prisons and immigration detention centers, it has been plagued by complaints about temporary workers and lax training, court records show. Among the lawsuits is one filed by DeBusk’s family, alleging negligence in his death; the company has not responded in court.
Eason said LaSalle’s internal records showed the company had fewer temporary jailers than reflected in state records, but did not provide specific numbers. He noted the numbers may change as jailers are hired, fired or quit; and the company sometimes struggles to staff its facilities, depending on the location. The company has hired recruiters and held job fairs to fill positions at short-staffed jails, he said.
In recent years, LaSalle has won contracts by bidding significantly less than competitors GEO Group and CoreCivic (the prison company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America).
The company has gotten a growing number of contracts in Texas to operate jails by promising to house inmates for as little as $30 per person per day; the company’s contract with Parker County is for less than $50. In Dallas, the county-operated jail estimates it spends about $70.
Police and jailers must have a license to work in Texas. But if you’re 18 or older, graduated from high school or earned a GED, can pass a criminal background check, drive a car and carry a gun, you’re allowed to work in a Texas jail for up to one year on a temporary license before completing the state-required coursework to get a jailers license. Texas issues between 4,000 and 5,000 temporary licenses a year.
The permanent licensing process includes 72 hours of instruction that can be completed online, plus 24 hours in a classroom, said Kenny Merchant, director of operations for credentialing at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. It’s illegal for jails to employ guards who don’t take the licensing exam within a year. But Merchant said it’s not uncommon — though risky.
“The liability issue that comes in for the jails and the employers is just huge,” he said.
To get their permanent licenses, guards must pass a 100-question multiple-choice test. One online practice exam asks test takers to identify when inmates may play games, to pick parts of federal law that relate to civil rights, and to agree sliding keys across a jailhouse floor is a bad idea.
In addition to the Parker County jail, LaSalle runs at least eight other facilities in Texas. They include local jails in Beaumont, Cleburne, Waco, Texarkana and Fannin County, north of Dallas. It also contracts with federal officials to detain immigrants and houses hundreds of inmates for Harris County in a jail in Louisiana.
While its Texas operations continue to increase, LaSalle has also been the target of lawsuits and complaints about treatment of inmates.
In 2015, at the LaSalle-operated Bi-State Jail in Texarkana (which holds people from Texas and Arkansas), Michael Sabbie was found dead on the floor of his cell. The day before he died, jailers piled on top of Sabbie and pepper sprayed him, according to video of the encounter included in court filings. Like DeBusk, Sabbie repeatedly yelled that he couldn’t breathe as the officers pushed down on his back. Federal prosecutors determined jailers did not violate civil rights laws, LaSalle’s court filings say.
LaSalle Corrections, the private company that operates the facility, requires officers record on video any time they use force against an inmate. DeBusk died minutes after this moment was recorded on this video, which was obtained through his family’s lawsuit.Erik Heipt, a Seattle lawyer, represents Sabbie’s wife in her civil lawsuit against LaSalle. Heipt, who specializes in cases involving deaths at jails and in police custody, called the use of pepper spray at the jail “shocking and extraordinary.”
Three nurses he deposed said they had seen at least 100 people sprayed in less than five years.
The warden is supposed to approve all uses of pepper spray, according to a company “use of force” policy included in court filings. Employees must know how to use the spray and how to treat people exposed to it. But in depositions Heipt took from officers, several said they had no training on how to spot medical distress.
In Parker County, prosecutors presented the DeBusk case to a grand jury in 2017; it declined to indict the jailers. DeBusk’s family sued LaSalle Corrections for negligence in September, alleging his death “was clearly caused by the actions of LaSalle personnel violating their own use of force policies.”
Through their lawsuit, the family got a copy of video which captures most of the encounter between DeBusk and the guards.
Jailers told investigators from the Texas Rangers that DeBusk became belligerent, taking off his clothing, throwing water around the cell and yelling insults. They decided to move him to a cell for violent offenders.
The video does not show the moment DeBusk allegedly swung his fist at a jailer. The state’s investigative report contains conflicting statements about whether DeBusk actually punched the guard or missed. An officer told investigators DeBusk kicked the camera out of his hand during the scuffle in the cell. Two jailers were inadvertently hit by the pepper spray, forcing one to leave to seek medical treatment.
LaSalle’s videotape resumes with DeBusk screaming as jailers pin him to the floor outside of the cell.
“They’re gonna kill me,” he yells. Seconds later, officers joke about the pepper spray. “Tastes good to me,” one jailer can be heard saying.
Four officers hoist DeBusk into the air. Pants around his knees and arms behind his back, he is carried to the cell for violent inmates by his elbows and the chains securing his feet. Officers place him face down on the floor of the cell, panting after carrying the nearly 200-pound man through the jail hallway. DeBusk yells “I can’t breathe!” as officers push knees and hands into his back.
DeBusk vomits. An officer tells a colleague “knee in,” prompting the jailer to drive a knee into DeBusk’s back. He groans, and the officer tells the other guard to “ease up.”
“I’m gonna die!” DeBusk yells. Vomit drips from his nose. He doesn’t speak. His face grows increasingly blue. One jailer tells her colleagues: “Hey guys, he’s turning a different color.” Seconds later, a jailer says DeBusk is “out.” “He’s fine, get the cuffs,” an officer responds. Although one jailer says DeBusk is breathing, another says medical staff should be ready to act. DeBusk’s arms remain behind his back. The cell door slams shut as he makes faint gasping sounds.
Records show at least seven minutes passed between the time guards closed the door and the time they called 911. Paramedics could not revive him.
A medical examiner said too many factors contributed to DeBusk’s death to choose a definitive cause, so she labeled his manner of death “undetermined.” But her report, which is a public document, states that the pepper spray and restraints played a role in his death. Food in his airway was a choking hazard, and the pepper spray used in the cell made it difficult for DeBusk to breathe, the autopsy states. “There were prolonged periods of prone restraint with compression of the torso and extremities, potentially contributing to a reduced respiratory capacity,” the report says.
When investigators questioned jailers involved in DeBusk’s death, several said they didn’t hear DeBusk say he couldn’t breathe. One said he ignored DeBusk, because he figured if he could scream, he could breathe. Another said he thought DeBusk was lying.
For several guards, this was their first job at a jail. Ty Ashley was 21 and had no formal training when he rushed into the cell for violent inmates and pushed his knee into DeBusk’s back. He was the officer told to “ease up” on the pressure.
State records show the jailer who filmed DeBusk’s death, James Duryea, never received his full license, despite working at the Parker County jail for 21 months. He could not be reached for comment. A LaSalle official said the company has records showing Duryea passed the licensing exam but never received his full license due to a paperwork error.
Of the 17 Parker County officers interviewed by Texas Rangers in connection to DeBusk’s death, 11 no longer work at the jail, according to state records.
Since DeBusk’s death, records show three people have died at the jail: two men died from heart conditions and a woman died of a drug overdose.
In his jail booking photo, his hair and eyes are wild. He had lost at least 30 pounds in the two prior months. When he was taken into custody, he said he hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours, according to state records.
DeBusk’s family members say they are haunted by their decision to not bail him out when he called on Christmas Eve. Normally, he would have been with them — playing Santa for the kids at his mother’s house.
His sister, Ashley Bourdelais, said she rushed to the hospital after receiving the call he was dead. Looking at her brother’s naked body, covered in bruises with vomit on his face, she wondered how things have could have gone so wrong so quickly.
“We were all together,” she said, “and he died alone.”