'I Can't Breathe': Black Man Who Died Of Negligence In A Privately Run Prison Was Begging For Help

'I Can't Breathe': Black Man Who Died Of Negligence In A Privately Run Prison Was Begging For Help

Michael Sabbie, a 35-year-old father of four, had died in a privately run jail on the border of Texas and Arkansas in 2015.

If a man's freedom is taken away, is it justified to abuse him? If a man is in prison, does his civil rights hold no value? If a man is unable to breathe, are the officers supposed to leave him in his cell and not pay attention to his medical conditions?  

Micheal Sabbie was a stay at home dad, loving his four children and cooking meals for them, his widow Teresa told the NBC News

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According to Huffington Post, the federal magistrate judge has issued a report last week - which lays out the disturbing evidence of the abuse and the neglect of Michael Sabbie. Sabbie had been an inmate in a privately run jail, who had begged for help, repeatedly telling the guards “I can’t breathe” as they assaulted him and placed him in the cell where he died.  

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The remarkable 169-page order issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven on Wednesday, last week, lays out the extensive evidence of neglect and mismanagement of the Bi-State Jail, which is run by the for-profit company LaSalle Corrections. 

Reportedly, Sabbie had been arrested for having a verbal tiff with his wife in July 2015, and he was locked up in a privately run facility that straddles the border of Texas and Arkansas. 



 

 

Sabbie, who had diabetes, asthma and hypertension, was having medical problems at the facility, but guards cited him for “creating a disturbance” by “feining [sic] illness and difficulty breathing.”  

According to the New York Times, Sabbie had warned the nurses about his medical condition when he was booked, and needed medical attention, but three days later he was found dead in his cell. 

A video captured his rapidly declining health sometime before his death, as he pleaded the officers to help him. According to the video, he can be heard saying "I can’t breathe". At one point as he crawled, gasping for air, while guards watched him through his cell door. 

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According to the Huffington Post, Sabbie was struggling to breathe on his way back from the court when a guard threw him to the ground. Other guards ― paid at a starting rate of around $10 per hour ― soon piled on top of Sabbie and pepper-sprayed him in the face.

After a minute-long stop at the nurse’s office, guards placed Sabbie in a shower and then his cell. He was found dead the next morning. 

According to NBC News, Sabbie had been arrested after getting into an argument with Teresa where he allegedly threatened her. They had been arguing about money, the family's lawyer, Erik Heipt, said. He was charged with a Class C misdemeanor. 

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"The senselessness of his death has affected me deeply. It was totally preventable. It sickens me to know he needed to go to the hospital and was denied. They treated him as if his life did not matter," his widow said in a statement. 

In light of the investigation and the reports that were coming in only serves to complicate the matter. The events leading up to the death of Sabbie, who was black, are reminiscent of recent highly-polarizing cases of Black Americans who died while being detained by law enforcement.

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A federal lawsuit filed by his family on Wednesday accuses at least 12 corrections officers and nurses at a for-profit jail on the Texas-Arkansas border of causing his death. The lawsuit claims that the employees at the jail, the Bi-State Justice Center in Bowie County, Tex., showed a “deliberate indifference” to his health and ignored obvious signs of his declining condition. 

“You have clearly untrained detention staff who are misusing their power and ignoring someone’s pleas for help and his repeated statement that he can’t breathe,” Erik Heipt, a lawyer for the family, said in an interview on Wednesday. 

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According to the New York Post, at a court hearing on July 21, several people in the room, including the judge, noticed Mr. Sabbie was sweating, breathing heavily and coughing, according to the suit. The judge asked if he was sick, and Mr. Sabbie replied that he had been spitting up blood and needed to go to the hospital. 

However, he was still taken back to the Bi-State Justice Center. While on their way back, a security camera captured in the footage how Sabbie is leaning against the wall to catch his breath. When he tried to turn back down the hall, a guard can be seen tackling him to the ground. 



 

 

A jail employee with a hand-held camera recorded the ensuing struggle between Mr. Sabbie and five guards who were trying to pull his hands behind his back.

“I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe,” he said before another guard used pepper spray on him.  A heavily breathing Sabbie was dragged to the nurse's station and into the shower, where he collapsed. 

When the guards pick him and pull him into his cell, his pants fall off below his waist.  Sabbie can be seen rolling on the floor and wiping his face with his shirt before the recording stops. He was found dead the next morning, sprawled on the floor of his cell. 

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