When John Robertson asked his probation officer if he could get treatment for his drug addiction, he didn’t know the cost would be paralysis.
Robertson was on probation for an assault charge in 2016 when he requested to be voluntarily admitted to a rehab facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. His probation officer set it up, and he was booked of his own volition at the Milam County Jail on June 20 for a transfer in 17 days.
One month later, still at the jail, he was wheeled out on a gurney, paralyzed from the waist down, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
Robertson, 41, claims he was severely injured in an unprovoked attack by guards that required neurosurgery and left him with a costly disability. The suit names as defendants Milam County, Sheriff David Green, District Attorney William Torrey, Chief Deputy Chris White, jail nurse Stephanie Vargas, Dr. Stuart Yoffe, and five other jail officials.
Less than a month after he was booked in, for “no apparent reason,” three of the guards allegedly handcuffed Robertson and dragged him out of his cell down a hallway.
“Even though the plaintiff was handcuffed, not resisting, and willing to walk, they kept dragging him,” according to the lawsuit. Once he was “lying face down in the new cell—and while he was still handcuffed,” one of the guards allegedly “dropped his full weight on [Robertson’s] back with his knees, causing severe pain.”
He told guards that he was in extreme pain, but one allegedly responded, “shut the fuck up,” according to the complaint.
The guard put his full body weight on Robertson’s back “at least two more times” despite his pleas that it was unnecessary, as he was not moving or resisting, the lawsuit claims. Then a guard allegedly turned Robertson’s head to one side and “put most of his body weight on it,” breaking one of the man’s teeth.
Robertson asked for medical treatment multiple times, but “they ignored him,” the complaint claims.
When the three guards pointed a taser at his face over his pleas, he “held up a sheet to protect himself,” a claim they allegedly used “as a pretext to drag the plaintiff to a padded cell with feces on the walls, where they stripped him naked and left him for 24 hours without medical attention.”
“For clothing, they threw him a smock that was damp with urine and too small for him to wear,” according to the lawsuit. “They tried to serve him food through a portal that was stained with feces.”
By the morning of July 16, Robertson was “screaming for help” because he had lost feeling in his legs, the complaint states. He “had defecated and urinated on himself because he lost control of his bodily functions,” the suit says.
The nurse on duty told Robertson there was “nothing wrong” and that he was “faking” his injuries, according to the suit. After a shift change, the jail staff called an ambulance, and he was immediately taken to a local hospital by concerned paramedics.
Robertson was “paralyzed from the waist down for more than two weeks because swelling from the injuries” had pressed on his spinal cord, after which he allegedly required neurosurgery and “extensive physical rehabilitation,” the complaint states.
Robertson’s attorney reported the incident to the FBI and the Texas Rangers, who are independently investigating.
Robertson has no further charges pending against him, and he is still at a local hospital undergoing treatment for spinal damage, chronic back pain, and “burning sensations in his legs,” reports KWTX-TV. He still has no feeling in one of his legs and is unable to use it, according to Robertson’s attorney. Milam County has refused to pay any of Robertson’s medical costs, his lawyer told the station.
Robertson is seeking actual and punitive damages against all of the defendants, in addition to claiming medical malpractice by a doctor and nurse at the jail. He has demanded a jury trial.