Suit over Texas woman’s jail death settles for $7 million

Apr 27, 2023, 8:15 AM

FILE - This undated photo provided by Mike Austin shows his wife, Holly Barlow-Austin, in Texarkana...

FILE - This undated photo provided by Mike Austin shows his wife, Holly Barlow-Austin, in Texarkana, Texas, before her 2019 death after being held in a Texarkana jail. A private company that ran the Texas jail where Barlow-Austin allegedly went blind following days of medical neglect before her 2019 death has agreed to a $7 million lawsuit settlement, her family's attorney said Thursday, April 27, 2023. (Mike Austin via AP, File)

(Mike Austin via AP, File)

DALLAS (AP) — A private company that ran a Texas jail where a woman allegedly went blind following days of medical neglect before her 2019 death has agreed to a $7 million lawsuit settlement, her family’s attorney said Thursday.

The payout over other deaths and incidents that led to lawsuits and investigations of the company, which runs facilities where thousands of people are incarcerated.

“If you’re going to cut corners and put profits over people’s lives, there will be a steep price to pay,” said Heipt, a Seattle-based lawyer who represents Barlow-Austin’s husband and mother. He said the payout ”should serve as a wake-up call to all private jail and prison operators.”

The family’s federal lawsuit was resolved ahead of a trial after more than two years of litigation. They had claimed that LaSalle guards and medical staff at the Texarkana jail ignored obvious signs of Barlow-Austin’s worsening health, falsified records, deprived the 46-year-old of food and water and only took her to the hospital after it was too late.

They sued LaSalle along with Bowie County and several guards and medical staff at the Bi-State Jail. Court records do not show details of the agreement, including what share of the settlement was paid by which of the defendants. Heipt said the specific terms were confidential.

Lawyers for LaSalle — which runs facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia — and Bowie County did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The county sheriff’s office took over management of the jail in 2021, after a decade of LaSalle running it.

In April 2019, Barlow-Austin was arrested for a parole violation by police in Texarkana, a city that straddles Texas’ northeastern border with Arkansas.

She arrived at the jail with serious health conditions, including HIV, but normal vital signs and full mobility, according to the suit. It said she left the facility “blind, emaciated, and barely able to move.”

Over a period of days guards and medical staff didn’t check on her or, when they did, ignored her calls for help and water, according to the suit. It also says staff falsified observation logs — something state inspectors found they had done in another case that was settled.

The family of Michael Sabbie reached an undisclosed settlement with LaSalle two months before Barlow-Austin died in a hospital. They alleged in a lawsuit that company employees at the same jail deprived him of medications and treatment for his heart disease and diabetes.

In 2017, LaSalle also agreed to a pleaded guilty to misdemeanor negligent homicide.

In a statement Thursday, Barlow-Austin’s mother and husband, Mary Margaret Mathis and Glenn Austin, said they hope the settlement in their case “will save some lives in the future.”

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Suit over Texas woman’s jail death settles for $7 million