In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Harris County settles similar police case for $ 4.75 million

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In what authorities are calling long-awaited compensation for a young man who died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by Harris County officers more than a decade ago, the county will pay Jamail Amron’s family 4, $ 75 million to settle a long-standing case. trial.

Amron’s death in 2010 bears a striking resemblance to that of George Floyd, the former Houston resident who died when a Minneapolis cop pinned him to the sidewalk for nine minutes with a knee to his neck. Two weeks ago, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd. The city of Minneapolis agreed to pay a $ 27 million settlement in March.

Hearst Newspapers
detailed the Amrons roller coaster legal battle Last year.

In a tweet announcing the settlement, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo alluded to the Minnesota tragedy. “In 2010, Jamail Amron died in handcuffs and under the feet of a Harris County officer. The facts of his case were eerily similar to those of George Floyd. “

Although Harris County District Attorney Christian Menefee said he did not have comparison numbers, county officials said the settlement was one of the most significant in recent memory.

“After nearly a decade in court, I am happy that this lawsuit – which I inherited from my predecessor – has come to an end,” Menefee said. “My office recommended that the case be resolved after assessing the facts of this incident, the legal issues and the history of the case.”

For the Amron family, the settlement represents the latest stage in a decade-long torturous journey that began with the family forced to conduct its own investigation into Jamail’s death, lingering through disbelief of those responsible and court victories. decisive as well as devastating losses.

“The settlement brings some comfort,” said Ali Amron, Jamail’s father. “But that doesn’t make us happy. No money can bring my son back; we don’t even think about the money. It doesn’t help me get justice.

It all started when Jamail himself called for help. Worried about having a bad reaction to cocaine, on September 30, 2010, the 23-year-old walked to a Burger King restaurant north of downtown for a cup of water after calling a medical assistance.

The four agents from City 4 who responded said he was combative, so he had to be handcuffed and nailed to the ground to protect him from getting hurt. They said that while he was tied to a stretcher, Amron suddenly stopped breathing and, shortly after, passed away.

The flat bureaucratic description mirrored the Minneapolis Police’s initial description of Floyd’s death: Floyd was “ordered to get out of his car.” After getting out, he physically resisted the officers. Officers were able to handcuff the suspect and found that he appeared to be in physical distress. The officers called an ambulance.

Unlike the Floyd confrontation, however, which was documented in graphic detail on a passerby’s cell phone, no one recorded Amron’s death, and it attracted little attention. Although the cruisers that responded to the scene had dashboard cameras and each of the police officers wore a bodily mic intended to capture the audio of their interactions, none of the devices were turned on, according to reports. court documents.

Harris County officers have not been sanctioned and no charges have been laid against them.

Yet from the start, Ali Amron was convinced that something was missing from the account of his son’s death. “After seeing his picture, I was like, ‘Why is his face so messed up? »», He remembers thinking.

Alone, he found eyewitnesses to the confrontation. What they told him differed considerably from the official account.

An assistant manager working at the Burger King had a close-up view of the incident. She told Ali Amron that one of the agents, Kevin Vailes, had placed his foot on Jamail’s mouth and held it there for several minutes. Another seems to have stuck his foot in Jamail’s stomach.

Although Jamail’s official autopsy revealed that he died of cocaine poisoning, an expert hired by his family concluded that there were few drugs in his system and that he had suffocated. Furious that no one was held responsible for his son’s death, Ali sued Harris County and Vailes County in 2012 for using excessive force causing Jamail’s death.

After years of legal wrangling, the trail took place in April 2017. After three weeks of testimony, the jury unanimously found Vailes responsible for Jamail’s death and Harris County responsible for failing to enforce a policy banning MPs to use their feet against those in their care. .

“Guilty or not guilty – it was easy,” recalled jury chairman Joe Ray Cepeda last year in an interview with Hearst Newspapers. “We had no doubt that (Vailes) caused the death. I mean, how do you go from a cry for help, to a glass of water, to death? There was no doubt the police were lying.

The jury awards the Amrons $ 11 million. But the family’s satisfaction was short-lived.

Harris County and Vailes appealed the sentence, and in February 2020, three judges from the 14th Court of Appeal overturned the verdict. They concluded that the elected official was not an official Harris County decision maker and could not be held legally responsible for the actions of Members of Parliament. And while Vailes may have used excessive force against Amron, the judges said the 2017 jury was wrong when they concluded that was what killed him.

The ruling reduced the compensation to $ 1 million in survivorship damages to be paid by Vailes personally. But the Amrons never collected; several months later, Vailes declared bankruptcy, according to Federal Court records. When her case was closed three months later, her debt to the Amrons was gone.

“We wouldn’t want his money anyway,” said Ali Amron.

Vailes still works for Harris County Precinct 4 police officer’s office, according to the Texas Law Enforcement Commission, which authorizes law enforcement officers.

Ali Amron said Harris County regulations would not prevent him from continuing to press for a formal investigation into his son’s death. “We will fight to the end,” he said. “I want to know: what happened to Jamail Amron that horrible night? “

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