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Lawsuit filed against Llano County Jail in death of inmate

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A federal lawsuit has been filed by the mother of a mentally ill veteran who died in the Llano County Jail.

The gravesite for Shawn Appell is located near the Llano River spillway. The military style headstone makes note of his service in the Air Force during the mid-80's, but a more lasting legacy may very well be in the words of this federal lawsuit filed by his mother.

Shirley Appell says her son, who suffered from schizophrenia and battled a drug addiction, died while in the Llano County Jail a little more than a year ago.

"Something needs to be done that this doesn't ever happen, happen to anybody else's family or anybody else," she said.

In April of 2011, Shawn Appell was arrested on a criminal mischief charge after crashing his car into a garage. He believed the owner wanted to kill him. Appell remained in jail for several months until he was taken to the local hospital after cutting his face.

"And the records from the hospital show one of the doctors acknowledged that he suffered from schizophrenia, they quoted him I the medical records where he said I was beating my head against the wall because I have demons in my head," said Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

According to the complaint, Appell was put in a padded cell but not restrained. That, according to his mother, allowed him to paced the cell and strike his head against the door viewing window allegedly whiled the jailers watched.

"Everybody in the jail, from what Mrs. Appell told me, could hear him hitting his head against the wall," said Michelle Smith co-counsel with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The lawsuit alleges that the death was slow and the decision not to stop him was deliberate.

"So they let him bash his head for over 24 hours," said Shirley Appell.

The case is based on violating the ADA and Rehabilitation Act as well as failing to provide protection under the 14th Amendment.

"The danger was real.  The danger was obvious and the solution was simple," said McGiverin.

The solution, according to Co-counsel Michelle Smith could have taken only a few minutes.

"They could have strapped him to a back board, 4 point ties, they could have put a helmet on him, they could have restrained him in any way," said Smith.

According to an autopsy report, Appell died from blunt force head trauma.

Three months ago a Llano County grand jury filed criminal charges against the two jailers, Donny Stewart and Scottie Scoggins. Both are on administrative leave and are named along with Sheriff Bill Blackburn in the civil lawsuit.

The criminal and civil cases may have a ripple effect going far beyond Llano County. More and more jails have to deal with more and more people with mental health problems because of budget cuts. What's happened in Llano may be a warning and an indication of a growing mental health crisis.

State law is clear on the type of care required in county jails, and the court action is designed to send a clear message about responsibility.

"If they don't if they ignore that responsibility then we will be suing them to hold them accountable," said McGiverin.

That statement may well be the legacy from Appell's troubled life.

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