An Arlington jailer who was fired after an inmate died in custody last year had not been trained to recognize or respond to a medical emergency and therefore should not have lost his job over it, according to an arbitrator’s ruling obtained by the Star-Telegram on Monday.
Matthew Fisher was reinstated by arbitrator Kathy Fragnoli in September after an appeal hearing in August.
A second jailer, Wes Allen, was also reinstated and his discipline reduced to a 30-day suspension.
Fragnoli wrote that firing Allen was unreasonable because his supervisor “expressed reluctance” to enter the cell of inmate Jonathan Paul, who lay motionless on the floor after a struggle with detention officers.
But Allen, who had been trained as an EMT, should have known that inmate Paul “was in a position to suffer respiratory problems after an altercation with officers,” Fragnoli wrote.
In Fisher’s case, there was “no evidence” that he had been trained to assess emergency medical needs of inmates, Fragnoli wrote.
In addition, she wrote, evidence showed that the jail lacked defined aftercare procedures for an inmate when pepper spray was used. Therefore, she ruled, Arlington police officials were wrong to say Fisher violated jail operating procedures.
‘Failed to check on him’
Fisher and Allen were working at the city jail on March 10, 2015, when the struggled with Paul took place.
Doctors diagnosed Paul, 42, with a kidney injury, respiratory failure, liver failure and a temperature of more than 103. He died three days later.
Physical restraints and the use of pepper spray played a significant role in his death, according to an autopsy report.
Police were first called to Paul’s apartment because he was throwing clothes and personal items out the front door.
At the jail, Paul had to be forcibly moved to a new cell after he flooded his original one by stuffing his clothes down the toilet. After struggling with officers in the new cell, Paul lay nude and motionless on the floor for about 11 minutes.
It was during this period that Fisher “failed to check on him,” Assistant City Attorney Sarah Martin argued at his arbitration hearing in August.
Fisher also “failed to get him in a seated position and failed to render emergency aid,” Martin said.
Firing was ‘unreasonable’
But detention officers told investigators that Paul’s demeanor was not unusual. One detention officer told an internal affairs detective that he observed inmates lying in a cell like Paul “every day.”
Fragnoli wrote that it was “unreasonable” that Fisher should have known Paul needed emergency medical treatment because Fisher was never trained to recognize such a crisis.
She continued: “It is not reasonable to find Fisher in violation of the [standard operating procedure] based on aftercare protocols that did not exist.”
The firing was initially made, Fragnoli wrote, “based on the premise that Fisher lacked humanity,” not that he violated a written policy.
The city attorney’s office declined to comment on the ruling Monday.
Two detention officers are facing criminal charges in the incident.
Steve Schmidt, 58, and Pedro Medina, 34, were indicted last year on charges of criminally negligent homicide. Both men are awaiting trial.
Paul’s family reached a $1.25 million settlement with Arlington in April.