Over Easy: Texas War Veteran Dies in Custody Saying “I Can’t Breathe” 20 Times
On July 13, 2012, Sgt. James Brown, an active duty Fort Bliss soldier, self-reported to the El Paso County jail to serve a 48-hour sentence for a DUI. Brown, who had served two tours of combat duty in Iraq, wrote on a jail form that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. According to a news report, Brown contacted his mother after he checked in to the jail, and explained that the jail now wanted him to stay for a week, and that he had decided that he “just wanted to pay the court fine and get out of here.” His mother sent the money for the fine, but James Brown never returned home. He was 26 years old.
The autopsy report said that Brown died of natural causes related to “sickle cell crisis.” Local news station KFOX14 fought “all the way to the attorney general” to obtain the video showing what happened in the jail in the moments before Brown’s death.
At some point, Brown experiences an episode of bleeding, although it is unclear where on his body he is bleeding. A staff team wearing riot gear storm the cell, restrain and shackle Brown, and perform a forced cell extraction- but Brown is not fighting. He pleads repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.” The staff carries Brown to the ‘infirmary,’ and even though Brown is audibly short of breath and his condition is obviously deteriorating, no ambulance is called. Instead of summoning help, the guards place a spit hood over his head. James Brown’s family attorney B.J. Crow described to KFOX:
B.J. Crow: “When a 26-year-old active military person checks into jail for a court-imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday, you know, in a casket, something went horribly wrong there. … He was bleeding out the ears, the nose, the mouth. His kidneys shut down. His blood pressure dropped to a very dangerous level. And his liver shut down.”
In the end, James Brown dies naked in a cell, not blinking or responding.
The family is suing for wrongful death.
James Brown, who survived two tours of duty as a combat soldier, was murdered. The autopsy report may also be suspect- because he would likely be alive today but for the torture at the hands of jail guards, his death was more accurately a homicide. The jail fought hard to keep the video secret. There are various versions of ‘sickle cell crisis,’ a condition that requires immediate medical attention. Brown needed to be in an ICU, not a torture chamber. I believe that the staff should be indicted, because they are dangerous.