Qualified immunity won't protect FF-medics who didn't help dying man, Dallas judge rules

The family of Hirschell Fletcher Jr., who died after an assault in 2016, will be allowed to continue their lawsuit against the two firefighter-medics


Nichole Manna
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

DALLAS — A federal judge in Dallas decided that two firefighters whose lack of action led to a man dying due to a brain bleed can be sued by the victim’s family.

The man, Hirschell Fletcher Jr., 46, died after he was taken to the Dallas jail despite begging for help and telling police and firefighters that he was injured. His body was found hours later lying under his jail cell mattress, according to court documents. Fletcher died after two people were caught on video slamming his head into the sidewalk in December 2016.

Firefighters Kyle Foster Clark and Brad Alan Cox, who responded to the beating call, pleaded guilty in March 2019 to a charge of tampering with a government record regarding the case. They falsified reports by stating that the Dallas Police Department hauled Fletcher to jail before their arrival, according to the indictment.

However, body camera footage that was reviewed by then-Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson and by Fletcher’s sister shows that the firefighters laughed at Fletcher’s condition and made fun of him for about 15 to 20 minutes instead of helping him, according to attorney Eric Kolder, who is representing Fletcher’s family in a federal civil lawsuit against the firefighters and city. Fletcher was bleeding from his head, Kolder said.

Attorneys for the firefighters filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in September, citing that they should be protected under qualified immunity, which shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations.

Qualified immunity has come under scrutiny after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, who was arrested on a murder charge in June. Last month, the Supreme Court decided not to reexamine the qualified immunity doctrine.

Ten months after the motion was filed, Judge Ada Brown denied it.

Her ruling followed a recent decision made by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the parents of a teenager who died in Mesquite police custody can sue the officers who failed him.

Graham Dyer, 18, died in the back of a police car after he slammed his head into the seat, window and metal bars 46 times while being driven to jail. Police didn’t restrain Dyer, who was experiencing a bad acid trip, according to court documents.

The 5th Circuit’s decision stripped the officers of the qualified immunity they were given by the lower courts. In its decision, the court wrote “there is no clearly established right in the Fifth Circuit to be free from medical inattention by officers who do not actually intend to cause harm.”

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©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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