In July 2012, an active duty Army soldier stationed on Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas reported to the El Paso County Jail to serve a two-day DWI sentence. After serving two tours in Iraq, it should have been easy time for Sgt. James Brown.
But instead, the short stay turned deadly and resulted in the death of the decorated 26-year-old soldier. After a legal battle that lead to the Texas attorney general, KFOX14 was able to obtain the video that gave insight to the events that led up to Brown’s death.
When Brown self-reported to the county jail, records show that he reported to authorities in writing that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Shortly after and in distress, he contacted his mother.
“He said they are 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,” said Dinette Robinson-Scott. He asked his mother to pay his fine, which she did the next morning.
Sometime between the call and the next day, Brown died. The video showed he appeared to have an episode in his cell that caused him to bleed, but it was unclear from where. When he would not speak to the jail guard, a team of guards in riot gear entered his cell. From the very beginning, Brown kept saying he could not breathe.
By the end of the video, Brown’s physical condition had deteriorated to the point that he was barely breathing and was unresponsive. It appeared as though at no time was an ambulance or 911 called for help. He was placed on a gurney and taken to University Medical center where he was officially pronounced dead.
Afterwards, Brown’s mother said through a statement, “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. 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 been in vain.”
The Root reported that Brown’s official autopsy report lists death by “natural causes by sickle cell crisis.” However, he did not have a known history of sickle cell crisis and have never suffered an incident before.
“Mr. Brown’s death was an unfortunate tragedy,” El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles 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.”
Brown family attorneys Jason Bowles and B.J. Crow said the video showed a gross violation of Brown’s constitutional rights. The soldier had no criminal record and toxicology tests showed no traces of illegal drugs in his body.
“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,” said Crow. “He was bleeding out the ears, the nose, the mouth, his kidneys shut down, his blood pressure dropped to a very dangerous level, and his liver shut down.”
Brown’s mother hopes that the footage of her son’s death leads to changes in how soldiers are treated in police custody. She and her family believe the jail guards’ treatment of Brown caused so much stress it triggered the sickle cell crisis which killed him.
The family is suing for damages. A federal civil trial is expected to go to court in October.