DALLAS — An appeals court has sided with the family of Erie Moore, whose death was featured in WFAA’s “Jailed to Death” series.
The family’s lawsuit had stalled after a series of lower court decisions favored the city of Monroe, La., Lasalle Corrections, which runs the jail and its guards.
A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, “The record, in this case, is beyond troubling.”
“It's unusual for a panel of the Fifth Circuit to issue a decision protecting the rights of the detainee at a private prison. Very unusual,” Leslie Brueckner, a former senior attorney at Public Justice. “It just speaks to the unusually horrific facts of this particular case.”
Public Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group, took on Moore’s case after seeing WFAA’s story about Moore.
“As soon as I saw that, I thought we’ve got to get involved in this case,” Brueckner said.
In its ruling, the judges found the “district judge erred in concluding” LaSalle Corrections was “immune from punitive damages."
The ruling revived claims that LaSalle’s jailers acted “deliberately indifferent to Moore’s serious medical needs, that excessive force caused his death and concluded the city of Monroe could be held accountable.
“We were able to ensure that the Moore family would have their day in court,” said Ellen Noble, an attorney with Public Justice.
Moore was arrested in Monroe for disturbing the peace, a misdemeanor, in 2015. He was taken to a jail run by LaSalle.
“Mr. Moore was repeatedly pepper sprayed by the guards as they tried to extract him from the cell. He was hit on the head multiple times. He was dropped on the floor where his head again impacted the concrete floor multiple times,” said James Flynn, an appellate attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
“He was dragged to a camera-free section of the prison called the four-way where there's evidence that guards repeatedly abused inmates and use pepper spray excessively,” added Flynn, who argued the case before the appeals panel.
Moore ended up in critical condition at a hospital and never regained consciousness. The coroner ruled his death a homicide.
LaSalle has previously denied wrongdoing in prior court filings.
In a statement, the three adult children of Moore, wrote, “We as a family are truly overwhelmed with the court of appeals decision and excited to finally start the process to get justice for our father, Erie Moore Sr.”
The family thanked WFAA for its coverage of Moore’s case, Public Justice, Flynn’s law firm, and Tiffany Wright with Howard University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic and their original attorney, Nelson Cameron.
“This has not been an easy journey for justice, and we have been fighting this battle of his untimely death since 2015,” the statement said. “At no means will this bring him back, however it will help hold everyone accountable and put some closure to this tragic part of our lives.”
WFAA’s “Jailed to Death” investigation showed videos of prisoners screaming for help and gasping for breath inside Texas and Louisiana jails run by LaSalle.
WFAA repeatedly found inexperienced and undertrained guards using too much force and not asking for medical care in time.
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