Tarrant County, dead inmate’s sister settle suit

Tarrant County has agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a civil rights suit filed by the sister of a mentally ill inmate who was found hanged in his Tarrant County Jail cell in 2012.

Jennifer Ciravolo, administrator of the estate of her brother, Jonathan William Holden, accepted the offer Wednesday, officials said Friday.

Holden had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis, his sister has said. In March 2012, he was arrested in Westlake and placed in a maximum-security area in the jail along with inmate Steven Lawayne Nelson, who was awaiting a capital murder trial in the beating death of an Arlington minister.

According to Ciravolo’s lawsuit, on March 19, Nelson provoked Holden with a broom. Nelson then fashioned a noose out of blankets and lured Holden to the bars of his cell, where he put the noose around Holden’s neck and lifted him off the ground, killing him.

Investigators reported finding Nelson’s DNA under Holden’s fingernails. Nelson was indicted in Holden’s death, but after Nelson was sent to Death Row for the minister’s death, he was not tried in Holden’s killing.

Ciravolo’s suit said her brother 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 said.

Kervyn Altaffer, an attorney representing Ciravolo, said Tarrant County officials followed a rarely used federal rule that allows a party defending a claim to enter a judgment if the trial date is more than 14 days away.

If the plaintiff accepts the offer, the judgment is final, but if it’s not accepted and there is a later judgment for a lesser amount, the plaintiff could face costs, such as attorney’s fees, he said.

U.S. District Judge John McBryde signed the final judgment order Friday.

Ciravolo could not be reached Friday to comment.

Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius, said: “Our sympathy goes out to the family. We understand their loss and have great sympathy for them.”

Maenius said he believed the settlement was fair for the family and for Tarrant County.

Holden had been released from a mental-health facility in Oklahoma and had not been taking his medications when he moved in to Ciravolo’s home in North Richland Hills. He was there for about a week before he left because she pressed him to take a bath, she told the Star-Telegram.

She did not learn that he was soon arrested in Westlake for stealing food from a hotel cafe and breaking into a parked car to get out of the cold.

Ciravolo’s suit described how she was not notified of her brother’s arrest or of his death and only later learned that he was given a pauper’s burial.

She asked the county to exhume her brother’s body so that he can be buried in the family’s plot in Oklahoma. As part of the judgment, the county agreed to pay for a coffin and to move Holden’s remains to Oklahoma.

This includes information from Star-Telegram archives.