A newly released video that captures the final moments of an active-duty soldier serving a two-day sentence for DWI shows the decorated veteran bleeding and begging for help as he struggles to breathe.
“When a 26-year-old man checks into jail for a court imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday in a casket, something went horribly wrong there."
U.S. Army Sgt. James Brown, who was stationed at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, voluntarily checked in to the El Paso County Detention Center on a Friday in July 2012 to serve a two-day sentence, and was dead by Sunday. Three years later, KFOX-14 has obtained graphic video that shows Brown’s final moments, before he died of what a coroner said was a sickle cell “crisis.”
“When a 26-year-old man checks in to jail for a court-imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday in a casket, something went horribly wrong there," said B.J. Crow, an attorney for Brown’s family. The family is suing the county in federal civil court, claiming Brown’s civil rights were violated and that he was a victim of excessive force and a lack of proper medical attention.
Brown, who served two tours of combat duty in Iraq, showed up at the jail to serve the sentence and told officials he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brown's mother said when her son checked in at the jail, he contacted her, according to KFOX-14.
"He said they're trying to make me stay seven days instead of two days, so i just want to pay the court fine and get out of here," Dinette Robinson-Scott told the station.
Although Robinson-Scott sent money to cover the fine and spare her son the extra jail time, by Sunday morning, something had gone wrong.
The newly released surveillance video shows that Brown was in distress, complaining that he could not breathe and bleeding in his cell. Moments later, a team of guards in riot gear went into his cell.
The family’s lawyer said at no time was an ambulance or 911 called for help. Brown was taken to University Medical Center, where he was officially pronounced dead.
“I pray that new laws protecting soldiers in custody will be implemented, that the military adopt new policy procedures in regards to their soldiers being held in custody by an outside agency,” his mother told the station. “If these changes can be made and our soldiers are protected, and another family never has to experience what my family has, then my son's death would not have been in vain.”
Brown had no criminal record, and toxicology tests showed no illegal drugs in his body. The autopsy results cited natural causes by sickle cell crisis. Sickle crisis can lie dormant until it is triggered by dehydration and stress, according to KFOX-14.
“Mr. Brown's death was an unfortunate tragedy,” the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “The sheriff's office has conducted a thorough review of the facts surrounding Mr. Brown's death and, based upon all the evidence obtained, determined that his death was caused by a pre-existing medical condition. The specific evidence cannot be discussed because of pending litigation.”