Woman sues jailers, says security video shows the pair assaulted her
A woman charged with drunken driving has filed a lawsuit against two Travis County jailers who she says assaulted her two years ago, and she showed a surveillance video to back her claims.
Shay Morrow, a 35-year-old executive assistant at a hospital, said she sought out the Texas Civil Rights Project to help make her case “because I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
The lawsuit was announced at a news conference Wednesday.
Morrow said the surveillance tape from Dec. 7, 2008, which her attorney obtained, shows two Travis County sheriff ’s office correctional officers throwing Morrow into the wall, then onto the ground and finally slamming her head against the concrete. The lawsuit identifies the officers as Layla Rendon and Tracy C. Hill.
Morrow said the incident was provoked by the ringing of her cell phone; she said she was allowed to have it on her at the time to copy phone numbers she would need to notify her family
of her bail.
“What’s remarkable about this case isn’t that this brutality occurred, but that we have a videotape of it,” said Scott Medlock, the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. He said his group gets letters from prisoners every day about jailers using excessive force, but there is usually no evidence.
Sheriff’s officials said they learned of the lawsuit Wednesday and that no formal complaint had been filed with their internal affairs unit over the incident. In response to the lawsuit, Sheriff Greg Hamilton ordered an internal affairs investigation into Morrow’s allegations.
At the news conference, Morrow said she heard the supervisor remind one of the guards that she had previously been warned about using excessive force. The guard responded that she did not know her own strength because she had been working out, Morrow said.
Morrow said she suffered a concussion, a laceration to her chin and bleeding from her ear from the incident.
Rendon and Hill remain employed with the sheriff’s office, according to its human resources department.
Morrow was taken to University Medical Center Brackenridge for a few hours to treat her wounds and was returned to the jail. Morrow said she was unable to contact her family and was not given another opportunity to retrieve the phone numbers that she lost during the assault. She said she was released two days later after posting bail of $5,000.
Following her time in jail, Morrow said she filed a written complaint with the Del Valle jail and another with the Travis County sheriff’s office.
“There was no internal investigation done after this assault,” Medlock said. “That’s pretty troubling.”
Morrow said she spent the three months after the incident at home with anxiety attacks, night terrors and psychological problems.
“I was afraid to go out of my house,” Morrow said. Now, she said, she’s terrified of getting pulled over. Morrow is seeking unspecified compensation for physical and psychological injuries.
County jail employees “need to understand that they’re part of our democracy,” said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “They need to understand that everyone has rights and dignity.”
Shay Morrow, left, with the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Jim Harrington, says she was assaulted by Travis jail employees in 2008.