The immortally infamous words “I can’t breathe!” of Eric Garner as the life was choked out of him by members of the New York Police Department are once again circling the nation after another innocent black man, who was a father of four, had the life choked out of him by overzealous jail guards at the Bi State Jail in Texarkana, Texas.
However, the public would have never known about the circumstances involving the death had a surveillance video not come to light.
The deceased victim of this heinous overreach of excessive force, 35-year-old Michael Sabbie, was a stay-at-home father. He was originally arrested for an alleged domestic violence charge on July, 19 2015. Sabbie allegedly argued with his wife, Teresa, over money, which is surely a shock to anyone who has been involved with the bliss of nuptial matrimony.
According to police, Sabbie’s wife claimed he threatened her while they argued inside a vehicle before Sabbie exited and walked away. Sabbie was then arrested by police for third-degree assault for the alleged threat.
Unfortunately for Michael Sabbie he will never have the opportunity to defend himself in court, as his wife showed no signs of actually being assaulted, nor did she claim Michael Sabbie laid on a finger on her.
What happened next is as deplorable a scenario as one might imagine during their worst nightmares. Sabbie was taken into custody and booked into The Bi State Jail, a for-profit institution. Less than half-a-day after being made an inmate for an innocuous argument, Sabbie began to complain of trouble breathing in the early morning hours of July 20, and was treated by a nurse for having low levels of oxygen in his blood. He was taken back to his cell. Several hours later, at around 10 a.m., Sabbie was found facedown on the cold dirty concrete floor of his cell having collapsed from his shortness of breath. He was once again taken to visit the jail’s nurse, who this time refused to treat his symptoms.
Police records state Sabbie became aggravated and asked, “So ya’ll aren’t going to help?” Curiously and coincidentally no medical report was created by the nurse, Tiffany Venable, who now states she wrote up one but has no evidence of doing so.
Sabbie was taken to his cell to await his arraignment later that afternoon at 2 p.m., of which he plead not guilty and a bond was set for $2,500 which he could not pay. During the proceedings, the presiding judge noticed Sabbie was having difficulty breathing and gave their non-expert opinion Sabbie may have been suffering from bronchitis. Sabbie thanked the judge for noticing and stated he had been spitting up blood before he arrived in court.
All the above has been documented and recorded by court records and police reports and is not in dispute. Now, however, the story becomes skewed as jail guards attempt to cover their own liabilities as opposed to what is actually shown on the surveillance video.
Sabbie arrived back at Bi State Jail with other inmates at around 4:15 p.m., which is precisely when the video evidence began. Sabbie is shown leaning against a wall attempting to gain his breath, when he was accosted by Officer Clint Brown. Brown claims Sabbie asked to use the phone at the booking officer’s desk and was denied and then became aggressive toward him by “turning” in an aggressive manner. Brown then claims he attempted to gain control of Sabbie by grabbing him and other officers also interceded. Lt. Nathaniel Johnson immediately pepper sprayed Sabbie in the face while Sabbie was pleading, “I can’t breathe.” In total six officers restrained Sabbie, and he was pepper sprayed numerous times while pleading with the officers and guards about his inability to catch his breath.
After the jail staff felt Sabbie had been properly subdued they forced him to take a shower, all the while Sabbie was telling them he could not breathe. His cries for help fell upon deaf ears as he was threatened with pepper spray while inside the shower to rinse off the pepper spray with which they had already doused.
Sabbie screamed apologies, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” before collapsing and was drug to his cell. After being located in the cell Sabbie had his handcuffs removed and was left again on the cold dirty concrete floor. By the next morning he was found dead.
In total the video shows Sabbie pleading with officers that he could not breathe at least 19 times.
Bi State Jail’s policy is to check on inmates every 30 minutes, but Officer Simone Nash concedes that she did not successfully fulfill those requirements. She stated, “Not all the checks were done and they were only documented.”
She further admitted she “Didn’t consistently enter and check the cells inside the pods during every one of the 30-minute checks.” However, to cover her own liability, Nash stated she saw Sabbie breathing during her courts which she claims she did not fulfill.
How convenient for her, perhaps she will have a second career in medical diagnosis after her reign of laziness in the Bi State Jail’s system draws to a close. As it happens positions at Bi State Jail are listed for $10 an hour and that they require “zero experience as a correctional officer” which surely inspires confidence for the reading public just becoming aware of this avoidable tragedy.
A medical examiner deemed Sabbie’s death as “natural” due to his obesity, and The State Crime Laboratory’s Medical Examiner Division decreed Sabbie had died “Of hypertensive arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease” while further finding the assault Sabbie received at the hands of jail staff “played a minimal role in the decedent’s death, and may not have contributed at all to his death.” Right, and I have magic beans to sell which will grow a stalk large enough to climb which leads to a bridge which is also available for purchase.
More than a full year after Michael Sabbie’s death, his widow Teresa was informed on August 1, 2016 by the Department of Justice that there would be no further inquiry. In part the notification read, “After careful consideration, we concluded that the evidence does not establish a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal civil rights statutes. Please accept our condolences.”
The Sabbie family has since retained the legal representation of law partners Erik J. Heipt and Edwin Budge, who specialize in the deaths of inmates. Budge called the death of Sabbie, “without a doubt among one the most outrageous” he’d ever seen.
Watch it here:
Lou Colagiovanni is an investigative journalist living in Las Vegas who specializes in politics and crime. His work has been highlighted all over the world and he is regularly featured on television and radio.