“I can’t breathe” were the last words to come out of Michael Sabbie’s mouth to a group of prison guards that piled themselves on top of him, hours before he was found dead in a prison cell at the Bi State Jail located in Texarkana. The privately owned prison is near the border between Texas and Arkansas. Surveillance footage of the hours leading to Michael’s death back in July of 2015 was recently made public, shedding light on the inhumane treatment Michael endured within 48 hours of his incarceration. Michael, a father of four, was arrested on July 19, 2015 after getting into an argument with his wife about money. She told police he threatened her during the argument. He was arrested and charged with third-degree assault on a household or family member, which is a misdemeanor.
Michael had been in jail for almost 12 hours when he told jail staff he was having a hard time breathing when he laid down. He was treated for having low oxygen levels in his blood and told to sit up if he had any other breathing issues. He had a court appearance the next day. Michael was sweating and coughing heavily in court and told the judge about his breathing issues and that he was coughing up blood. Despite the fact that he was in need of medical assistance, after the court appearance, he and other inmates were taken back to Bi State Jail.
Surveillance video from the jail shows him leaning against a wall. It shows Officer Clint Brown walking over to him. Officer Brown claim that Michael was asking to make a phone call, and when he was refused the call, Officer Brown says Michael turned towards him aggressively, and that’s when five police guards wrestled him to the ground. Piling on a man who had already been complaining about having trouble breathing.
You can hear Michael on the surveillance video begging and pleading with the police guards, saying “I can’t breathe, sir. Please! Please!” Then a sixth officer pepper sprayed him directly in the face as he was telling officers he couldn’t breathe. Michael was taken to the jail’s medical center and was seen by the same nurse, Tiffany Venable who he initially spoke with about his breathing issues. She concluded that his injuries were a normal reaction to being pepper sprayed and he was taken away by officers. After his death, a police report noted that, ““Ms. Venable said she wanted to get off work on time because she had to get her daughter to a pitching lesson,” and she didn’t file a report on his later visit until the following day.
After leaving the medical unit, officers took Michael to a shower to hose him down..... with his clothes still on! He fainted once while he was in the shower. The officers then dragged him back to his cell and left him on the floor. He was found dead in his cell on July 22, 2015. The medical examiner says he died of "natural causes", noting his obesity and heart muscle damage on his death report. The official cause of death was hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and the examiner said his altercation with police guards, “played a minimal role in the decedent’s death, and may not have contributed at all to his death.”
The Department of Justice is not pursuing charges against any of the officers involved in this case.
But they should. Given the fact that Michael Sabbie was in police custody during the time of his death and he complained about breathing, the guards are directly responsible for his death.