An attorney for the family of a man who died at a hospital shortly after being officially released from custody at the county jail said the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office could face a legal battle.
Jorge Luis Cortez, 58, of Houston died June 23 at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was taken while staying at the Galveston County jail.
Cortez came to the medical branch in May after his health worsened while he was incarcerated at the Galveston County jail. He was not officially released from jail custody until June 20.
“We are considering a lawsuit,” said U.A. Lewis, the family’s attorney. “It depends on the autopsy results, but the death was unexpected. He went to jail healthy and wasn’t there too long before he ended up in the ICU and passed away.”
Cortez pleaded guilty in 2014 to a charge of possession of a controlled substance, court records show. As part of the plea agreement, Cortez was sentenced to four years deferred probation.
“He had just completed a four-year term of probation for possession of drugs,” Lewis said. “He had to go to court for one final setting and pay his remaining fees, and then he would be released.”
Instead, a required urine sample came back positive, Lewis said.
Cortez’s probation was extended another a year, and he was ordered to remain in custody until he could be placed in a treatment facility for 45 to 120 days, court records show.
While waiting for a bed to open in a rehabilitation center, Cortez in May became ill and was transported to the medical branch, Lewis said.
Cortez remained in the hospital until his death, and the family only found out about it in June, Lewis said.
A judicial officer ordered Cortez to be released from custody June 20, court records show.
John “D.J.” Florence, chief investigator at the Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office, said the autopsy report is pending further studies.
With no official word, Lewis is concerned about what could have happened.
“There’s a possibility he could have died from mesothelioma, or he could have died from an injury sustained while in the jail,” Lewis said.
Galveston County officials were cautious about speculating before determination of an official cause of death.
“I have been in touch with the attorney for Mr. Cortez’s family,” said Paul Ready, an attorney for the Galveston County legal department. “We are not aware of any pending litigation at this time. We are aware that there may be potential litigation in the future, though it remains uncertain who the parties to that lawsuit might be.”
Ready declined further comment, citing privacy laws related to inmate medical issues.
If Lewis were to file a lawsuit on behalf of Cortez’s family, it would be the second legal battle she has entered over Galveston County jail treatment.
Lewis was also the attorney representing the family of Jesse Clayton Jacobs in a lawsuit filed exactly one year after he died while in law enforcement custody.
The lawsuit was filed against Galveston County, Sheriff Henry Trochesset and several jail employees in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston.
A notice filed in court said the parties had reached a settlement agreement, and a finalized settlement would be entered by July 20, court records show.
Jacobs, 32, died on March 14, 2015, at an island hospital, a day after an ambulance brought him there from the jail.
Jacobs had pleaded no-contest to a drunk driving charge eight days before his death and was serving a 30-day sentence.
On March 13, 2015, he apparently suffered seizures and lost consciousness in jail.
The lawsuit contends jail authorities failed to give Jacobs access to prescribed medications, despite having a letter from his physician detailing his treatment for anxiety and panic disorder.