$7M Jail-Death Settlement Largest Ever in TX

death settlement
Gavel and money | Image by RomanR

The family of Holly Barlow-Austin recently reached a jail death settlement of $7 million, the largest such settlement in the state’s history. The family’s lawsuit accused an East Texas jail of not providing proper medical care for Barlow-Austin while she was in its custody.

Barlow-Austin, 46, was arrested in April 2019 for violating her parole and transported to the Bi-State Jail in Texarkana, per Law 360. She then underwent a medical exam the day after arrival, and a request was sent to her outside medical care provider for information on her history.

The request for medical information took five weeks to arrive, and jail staff were unaware that Barlow-Austin had multiple medical conditions, including HIV, depression, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse, per Law 360.

Barlow-Austin’s husband, Michael Glenn Austin, brought her prescription drugs to the jail a few days after she was arrested and alerted jail staff to some of her health conditions. 

Despite knowing of some of her healthcare needs, the staff did not provide Barlow-Austin with the medical attention she needed, eventually resulting in an infection that left her blind and unable to walk, per HuffPost. Barlow-Austin reportedly went long periods without food or water since she could not see anything left in her cell.

The lawsuit says Barlow-Austin was taken to a hospital and died of “fungemia/sepsis due to fungus, cryptococcal meningitis, HIV/AIDS, and accelerated hypertension” on June 17.

Erik Heipt, the family attorney in Barlow-Austin’s case, said she spent the last week of her confinement living under inhumane conditions.

“She spent the last week of her confinement in a so-called ‘medical observation’ cell—isolated and alone, in constant pain, blindly crawling around her cell, dehydrated and malnourished, living in filthy and inhumane conditions, decompensating—with no medical help,” wrote Heipt in a statement, per HuffPost.

Barlow-Austin’s mother and husband sued jail staffers, Bowie County, and LaSalle Corrections LLC, the company that runs the facility where she was incarcerated. The lawsuit alleged that LaSalle had been “neglecting and abusing inmates, disregarding their fundamental constitutional rights, and engaging in other cruel and inhumane acts and practices” for some time.

A settlement was reached that awarded Barlow-Austin’s family a total of $7 million, but other details from the settlement are currently unknown. The family hopes that the settlement will bring light to the conditions in jails and promote change in the future.

“And we hope and pray that it will lead to changes in how our jails treat people in their custody and will save some lives in the future,” wrote the family in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “Because that’s what Holly would’ve wanted.”  

Heipt wrote in a statement that this settlement should be a message to jails that “this type of blatant disregard for human life will not be tolerated,” per The Washington Post.

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