Last Thursday, Shirley Appell filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against Danny Stewart, Scottie Scoggins and Sheriff Bill Blackburn, as well as Llano County for the death of her son, 45-year-old Shawn Appell, who died in the Llano County Jail in August 2011. At the time of his death, Appell was being held on charges of Criminal Mischief after driving his car into a local tire shop.
Shawn, a U.S. Air Force veteran, died of blunt force trauma to his head according to an autopsy report. In a press release by Ms. Appell’s attorney, Michelle Smith, contends that Shawn died “after officers deliberately permitted him to beat his head against a cell wall for days. He had contusions and bruising from his forehead to his cheeks.” Smith is an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
According to the lawsuit, Stewart, the Llano County Jail Administrator, and Scoggins, a sergeant and jail supervisor are “liable for the deprivation of Shawn’s constitutional rights under color of law and in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to protection against self harm under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”).”
In July 2012, Scoggins and Stewart were indicted by a Llano County grand jury on charges of “injury to a disabled person by omission” in the case. A trial date has not been set.
Michael Shaunessy is the attorney representing the jail employees and the sheriff; he told The Llano News that while his clients were sympathetic to the family, they had not done anything wrong.
The lawsuit also contends that “Sheriff Bill Blackburn is liable in his individual and official capacities when he, though aware that Shawn Appell was slowly killing himself, deliberately chose to do nothing, denying him of his right to protection against self-harm.”
And finally, the lawsuit says, “Llano County is liable for the deprivation of Shawn’s rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §12131, et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794 (“Rehabilitation Act”), which requires public facilities, like the jail, to reasonably accommodate for people with mental disabilities. Likewise, Llano County is liable because its policy, practice, and custom of denying medical care to people with disabilities resulted in Shawn’s unfortunate death.”
Shawn’s mother, as sole heir, is seeking unspecified monetary relief.
“Llano County and the jail guards knew Shawn was beating his head against a wall,” said Smith, “They heard him banging his head, took him to a hospital, and put him right back in a cell and let him continue to bang his head. They could have stopped in any number of ways – putting him in a helmet, restraining him, or taking him back to the hospital. They ignored him instead.”
According to Ms. Appell, Shawn suffered from schizophrenia, and at Thursday’s press conference, she said that she didn’t know what triggered it, but said that Shawn’s paranoia grew with drug use.
The lawsuit states that Scoggins, Stewart, and Blackburn, “had the means and opportunity to stop Shawn from hurting himself…they deliberately ignored him and denied him reasonable accommodations for his disability.”
“Shawn’s death could have and should have been prevented,” explained Smith. “Jail officers are required to keep the people in their custody safe, and these officers weren’t doing their jobs.” “I thought Shawn would have been safe in the jail,” explained Shirley Appell. “My son is no longer here because the jail ignored Shawn instead of helping him.”
Llano County Attorney Michael Shaunessy was not available for comment.