How Did a 26-Year-Old Iraq War Veteran Die Serving a 2-Day Jail Sentence?

Sgt. James Brown checked into a Texas jail for a two-day stay on a DWI charge. This image from video footage shows jail guards extracting Brown from his cell after he refused to respond to a request and placing him in a restraining chair. He would die soon afterward. (Image: KFOX14)

How Did a 26-Year-Old Iraq War Veteran Die Serving a 2-Day Jail Sentence?

Sgt. James Brown left his family in 2012 to report to El Paso County Detention Facility in Texas for a two-day stay on a DWI. So how did he end up dead?

Twenty-six-year-old James Brown served two tours in Iraq. He didn't make it two days in a Texas jail.

In 2012, Brown was arrested in El Paso, Texas, where he was living with his family while on active duty, and sentenced to two days in the El Paso County Detention Facility for a DWI.

According to KFOX14, when Brown self-reported to the jail, he told the intake officer that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Once in custody, he called his mom.

"He said, 'They're trying to make me stay seven days instead of two days, so I just want to pay the court fine and get out of here,'" Dinette Robinson-Scott said. Brown asked his mother if she would pay the fine to get him released. She paid the money the next day and learned that overnight, her son had died.

"When a 26-year-old man checks into jail for a court-imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday in a casket, something went horribly wrong there," one of the Brown family attorneys, B.J. Crow, told the news station.

After a hard-fought battle to have video footage released of the incident that Brown's family believes led to his death, KFOX14 learned that during Brown's stay, several guards detained him and did not order medical attention even though Brown can be heard throughout the recording saying that he can't breathe. At one point, Brown can be heard yelling, "I'm choking on my blood."

According to KFOX14, at some point during his incarceration, Brown had an "episode in his cell that caused him to bleed." The footage does not show how Brown began bleeding or how the blood got onto the walls of his one-person cell, but officers can be seen asking Brown questions. Brown refuses to answer, and guards in riot gear enter the cell and force Brown to the ground. As many as five guards can be seen on top of Brown, who appears to be flat on the ground. At no point during the footage does Brown appear to be resisting the officers, but he can be heard yelling, "I can't breathe."

Throughout the recording, Brown appears to be losing consciousness. At one point, he begs guards to remove the spit guard they have placed over his mouth. At another point, he begs officers for water. He is given half a Dixie cup.

KFOX14 notes that, "By the end of the clip, Brown's physical condition appears to deteriorate, showing shallow breathing and no longer blinking or being responsive. Brown appears to no longer be capable of pleading for anything. Attorneys say at no time was an ambulance or 911 called for help." (Editor's note: The following video contains content that is graphic and disturbing.)

After Brown is completely unresponsive, KFOX14 reports that Brown is taken to University Medical Center, where he is pronounced dead.

The official autopsy report lists "natural causes by sickle cell crisis," the news station notes.

"Mr. Brown's death was an unfortunate tragedy," El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said in a statement viewed by KFOX14. "The sheriff's office has conducted a thorough review of the facts surrounding Mr. Brown's death and, based upon all the evidence obtained, determined that his death was caused by a pre-existing medical condition. The specific evidence cannot be discussed because of pending litigation."

Thee news station noted that Brown did not have a known history of sickle cell crisis and had never suffered an incident before, but added that sickle cell can stay dormant and be triggered by stress and dehydration.

Brown's family believes that the guards' treatment of him was more stressful than being under fire during his two tours in Iraq.

"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," Crow told KFOX14.

Brown's mother hopes that the footage of her son's death leads to changes in how soldiers are treated in police custody.

"I pray that new laws protecting soldiers in custody will be implemented, that the military adopt new policy procedures in regards to their soldiers being held in custody by an outside agency," she said in a statement. "If these changes can be made and our soldiers are protected, and another family never has to experience what my family has, then my son's death would not (have] been in vain."

The news station notes that Brown's family is suing for damages and that a federal civil trial is expected to go to court in October.

Read more at KFOX14.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 G/O Media Inc.