Fort Worth

July 1, 2014

No settlement announced in lawsuit by dead inmate’s family

Tarrant County commissioners and attorneys for the sister of a Tarrant County Jail inmate who was hanged in his cell two years ago did not reach a settlement Tuesday in a federal civil-rights suit. A judge ordered the parties to discuss a settlement.

Tarrant County commissioners and attorneys for the sister of a Tarrant County Jail inmate who was hanged in his cell two years ago did not reach a settlement Tuesday in the sister’s federal civil-rights lawsuit against the county.

U.S. District Judge John McBryde ordered the county and attorneys for Jennifer Ciravolo, sister of Jonathan Holden, to discuss a settlement as they also prepare for trial.

After two hours in executive session, commissioners adjourned without mentioning the suit.

Assistant District Attorney Marvin Collins, representing the county, declined to comment.

Ciravolo’s attorney, Brian McGiverin of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said, “We will continue to pursue the case aggressively in federal court.”

McGiverin said he hopes the outcome changes policies in the Tarrant County Jail so that nothing like Holden’s case happens again.

Ciravolo’s suit says that although jail officials knew that her brother was mentally ill, they placed him in the maximum-security area of a downtown jail unit near Steven Lawayne Nelson.

Nelson is on Death Row for the beating and murder of Arlington minister Clint Dobson. At the time, Nelson was awaiting trial in the slaying.

Nelson was indicted in Holden’s death. He was not tried after he received a death sentence in the Dobson case.

According to Ciravolo’s suit, on March 19, 2012, Nelson provoked Holden with a broom while he remained in his cell. He then fashioned a noose out of blankets and lured Holden to the bars, where he put the noose around Holden’s neck and lifted him off of the ground. Holden was found dead in his jail cell. Investigators found Nelson’s DNA under Holden’s fingernails.

The family’s suit says Holden should have been housed in an area of the jail reserved for nonviolent inmates who are regularly monitored by mental health professionals. Jail officials’ failure in Holden’s case violated his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act because he was not accommodated properly, the suit says.

Ciravolo’s suit says the county did not notify her of her brother’s arrest or his death even though she was listed as an emergency contact. Nelson was eventually buried in a Tarrant County pauper’s grave instead of the family plot in Oklahoma. Ciravolo also wants her brother’s body exhumed for proper burial.

In its response to the suit, the county said that Holden was in protective custody from the time he was booked into jail on March 6, 2012, until March 19.

Holden was placed on “suicide precaution,” but psychiatrists from Mental Health Mental Retardation, the agency that contracts with the jail, recommended that he be taken off suicide prevention and moved to single-cell housing. Holden was transferred to the general population March 17 after he struck a jailer with his fist.

The county’s response said that Holden did not list an emergency contact and that after his death, the medical examiner’s office tried repeatedly to reach his next of kin.

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