ECSO facing several civil suits

Four civil suits have been filed this year by inmates against members of the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Mike Griffis, and branches of the office claiming deprivation of the civil rights.

The first complaint was filed March 7 by Jermaine Jerod Finch, who was taken to the Ector County Detention Center on Feb. 1 on the charge of possession of a controlled substance, a state jail felony.

Finch alleges in his complaint that when he was first being taken in for booking on Jan. 28, he received excessive punishment from staff upon arrival.

“In the booking area, I was assaulted by an Odessa Police Department officer and the jailers on account of they couldn’t take my boots off,” Finch wrote in his complaint. “I never resisted, and they tried to say I was failing to I.D.”

Finch stated further that he waited several hours before he was taken to the Medical Center Hospital emergency room, where he stayed for two-and-a-half days before being taken back to the Ector County Detention Center.

The defendants in the case consist of the Ector County Detention Center, the Odessa Police Department, Sheriff Mike Griffis, Sgt. Steve Ramos and Lt. Jesus Abalos, court records show.

A second civil suit was filed a week later, March 13, by Albert Garza against Abalos and Mike Griffis. Garza claims in his complaint that he was placed in a sex offender housing pod and assaulted by other inmates, despite not being a sex offender. Jail records show Garza was charged with fraudulent use of identifying info, a third-degree felony, failure to identify as a fugitive, a class A misdemeanor, and was a fugitive from justice in Otter Tail County, Minn. He is not listed in the sex offender registry.

“I have no sex citation charge, but that is how this place is run and the guards or sheriff have no care in the world for us inmates at all,” Garza stated in the complaint. “Mike Griffis’ way of running this facility is the reason a lot of inmates like myself have been physically assaulted in this place.”

Ector County Commissioners recently appointed attorney Denis Dennis as legal counsel for Griffis.

A third civil suit was filed April 10 by Steven Howell against the Ector County Detention Center Medical Department, the City of Odessa, Ector County, Griffis, Darrell Hadley, Officer Kevin Shockey and Lea Zarsky. Jail records show Howell was charged on March 17 with possession of marijuana, a class B misdemeanor, open container and public intoxication, class C misdemeanors.

Howell alleges in the complaint that on March 21, he and other inmates were given a tuberculosis test by a medical staff member at the jail who wore no sterile gloves during the injections.

“I now have extreme pain in the elbow of the same arm that received the T.B. test and have a large pocket of pus or fluid accumulated in the same elbow, my left,” Howell wrote. “Medical has ignored by repeated requests to see a doctor and the pain is getting worse while the pus pocket grows.”

The most recent suit was filed on May 23 by Lane Coulter, who was charged April 20 with evading arrest with a vehicle or watercraft, a state jail felony. Coulter alleges in the complaint that while he was jailed he fell off of the top bunk in his cell and broke his leg.

“After breaking my leg, I was transported to Medical Center Hospital, but ordered to walk from the van to the emergency room,” Coulter wrote. “I was shackled at the ankles, with a broken leg, making the ordered walk more painful and extremely more cruel than necessary.”

Griffis and Dennis, who is representing Griffis is Garza v. Griffis, said they could not comment on any of the cases due to the litigations being pending.

None of the cases have any scheduled court dates yet. All of the trials will be held in the Texas Western District Court and presided by Judge David Counts.