Lawsuit: Dallas woman died of drug overdose after cops and paramedics failed to provide medical aid

DALLAS — Diamond Ross was limp as two Dallas police officers dragged her, face first, into a holding cell and lay her on the floor.

Video from the city jail shows the officers picked her up off the floor and sat her in a wheelchair, unconscious and dying, where they left her for 12 minutes while they attended to other duties. No one gave her medical attention until paramedics arrived and rushed her to Baylor University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead of a drug overdose the following day.

Ross, 34, died following an Aug. 18, 2018, arrest stemming from a domestic disturbance. Officers, who said she fought them while high on PCP, took her into custody on outstanding warrants.

Now, nearly two years after her death, her family has filed a federal lawsuit against the Dallas Police Department, the city’s fire department and two officers, Corporal Larry Moody and former Officer William Ortega, alleging that their negligence violated Ross’ civil rights.

No paramedics have been named in the suit, though the document names “John or Jane Does” working for the police department, Dallas Fire-Rescue and the Dallas City Marshal’s Office.

Ross’ mother, Ethelyn Ross, told WFAA in Dallas late last year that her daughter was treated like she was “less than human.”

“Nobody should be treated like that. Nobody,” Ethelyn Ross told the news station. “I was crushed. My heart was crushed.”

Diamond Ross’ death did not garner public attention until November 2019, more than a year after she died, when police officials released the jail footage, body camera footage and footage from the patrol car in which Ross was driven to the jail. The footage from the patrol car shows Ross pleading for water and medical help, telling officers she cannot breathe.

In footage obtained last fall by WFAA, Ross is clearly unconscious when she is removed from a patrol car outside the jail. In additional footage given to the news station, Moody admits Ross may have been dead or dying when they dragged her inside.

“I think her last heartbeat was when we got her out of the car,” Moody says as he sits in a patrol car, speaking to supervisors.

Ross’ death is gaining more attention amid the protests across the country following the May 25 death of George Floyd, who was killed while in Minneapolis police custody. Four former officers have been charged in connection with Floyd’s death.

Diamond Ross tragically died of a drug overdose while in #Dallas police custody in August 2018. Officers did not render...

Posted by Dallas Citizens For Change on Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dallas police officials said in a Nov. 6 statement that the footage was released “in an effort to be transparent.” WFAA reported, however, that the footage was not made public until after the news station filed a request for it.

“Since receiving news of Diamond’s death, her family has been promised a thorough investigation into criminal liability from the actors involved,” Justin Moore, the attorney representing the family, wrote in a statement last week. “It has been over six months since the city has made this promise. There has been no intelligible progress made in any investigation up to this point.

“Diamond’s mother, Ethelyn Ross, has taken seeking justice for her daughter into her own hands.”

Dallas authorities said in November, when the footage was released, that the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges because the county medical examiner had ruled Ross’ cause of death an accidental overdose.

“The Dallas Police Department conducted an Internal Affairs investigation and concluded that the arresting officer failed to secure a prisoner with a seat belt during transport and failed to obtain medical treatment for a prisoner when it became apparent that the individual was unresponsive,” department officials said in a statement. “To that end, the arresting officer in this case was disciplined for his behavior during this incident.”

Moody, who has been with the department since 2007, was given a written reprimand for the improper transport and his failure to give Ross medical treatment, according to authorities. Ortega, a trainee who had been with the department for less than a year, resigned in August 2019 while the internal investigation was underway.

Ortega was accused only of improper transport.

See WFAA’s Nov. 7 report on Diamond Ross’ death below. Warning: The footage contains graphic images.

The Dallas Morning News reported Friday that Ethelyn Ross has attended meetings of the Community Police Oversight Board for months, hoping to see more done about her daughter’s death. In March, prior to the coronavirus pandemic shuttering government operations, police monitor Tonya Mcclary said an outside firm had been hired to review Ross’ death.

Three months later, the family hopes a lawsuit can bring the answers they have not yet received.

“This board was put in place to ensure that people who were involved in cases like these get fully investigated and that families of victims get justice, but nevertheless, we haven’t been provided that,” Moore said last week, according to the News.

‘I can’t breathe, sir’

The body camera footage shows officers and Dallas Fire-Rescue personnel attending to Ross as she is arrested. As they place handcuffs on her and settle her into the backseat of the patrol car, she shouts for water.

The fire medics ask her questions about any medical conditions she has or if she is allergic to any medications. Still, she cries out for water.

At one point in the body camera footage, an officer can be heard saying: “We see her all the time at the QT … every time I see her, she’s high on wet.”

“Wet” is a slang term used to describe a marijuana cigarette laced with another substance, typically PCP or formaldehyde.

Watch Dallas police officers’ body camera footage of Diamond Ross’ arrest below. Warning: The footage contains graphic images.

The 36-minute video of Ross’ time in the back of a patrol car begins with her showing signs of distress.

“I can’t breathe,” she says, appearing breathless. “I can’t breathe.”

Ross, whose hands are cuffed behind her back, appears to be talking to someone outside the patrol car. About a minute into the video, an officer opens a back door and, grabbing her by the feet, drags her into a lying-down position on the seat.

Her face smacks into the upholstery of the seat.

“You hurt me,” Ross says as she struggles to turn over. “He hurt me.”

Ross continues to shout incoherently, kicking her legs as she moves into a sitting position. She continues talking as the minutes tick by.

“These cops are killers,” she appears to tell someone. “Cop killers.”

A few minutes later, she calls for help.

“Ambulance!” she shouts. “Paramedics!”

She looks out the window at one of the officers.

“I can’t breathe, sir,” she says.

Officers standing outside the car shine their flashlights in at Ross, observing her. She grows quiet, appearing on the edge of consciousness.

At one point, Ross calls out for her mother.

Over the next several minutes, Ross continues to struggle to breathe, calling out multiple times for help. When officers and medics try to get her to sit up, she falls over backwards onto the seat.

Watch Dallas Police Department patrol car footage of Diamond Ross’ arrest below. Warning: The footage contains graphic images.

When they pull her to the edge of the seat, she falls out onto the ground. It takes multiple people to get her back into the patrol car, where her shorts appear to fall out of place as they drag her across the seat.

Multiple times throughout the footage, parts of Ross’ body are blurred out by police officials.

“Despite Ross’ desperate pleas for medical attention, her being unresponsive and a DPD officer knowing that Ross was likely under the influence of illegal drugs, DFR improperly cleared Ross for transport to the City of Dallas Lew Sterrett Justice Center rather than transporting Ross directly to a hospital emergency facility,” the lawsuit filed by her mother states. “Officers Moody and Ortega placed Ross into custody for outstanding city warrants and transported her to the detention facility, which led to her wrongful death.”

The video shows that Moody and Ortega failed to secure Ross into a seat belt before taking her to the jail. As they drive away from the scene of her arrest, she appears barely conscious, falling over onto the seat multiple times.

As the officer behind the wheel drives, Ross is able to move about the back seat and stick her feet up against the rear window of the patrol car. When she sits up, her body jostles around with the movement of the vehicle.

Ross appears to be in physical distress, sweating and breathing heavily. Several times, her head moves back and forth and she writhes in discomfort.

Ortega, who is visible in front the passenger seat, appears to be engrossed in his smartphone during the trip.

‘Hey, wake up’

By the time they arrive at the jail, Ross appears to have completely lost consciousness. There is some movement of her head, but it appears to be moving with the rest of her body as it struggles for breath.

“Hey, wake up,” one of the officers says as he tries to rouse her to bring her inside.

“Rather than seek immediate medical attention or transport Ross to an emergency medical facility, Ortega and Moody drag an unresponsive Ross into the detention facility,” the lawsuit states.

The footage from inside the jail, which has no audio, shows the officers drag Ross into a holding cell made of chain-link fencing. Ortega retrieves a wheelchair.

Watch the footage from inside the Dallas Detention Center below. Warning: The footage contains graphic images.

Her head whips back violently as they sit her in the chair and leave her alone in the cell. She lays motionless in her seat as other officers come and go, some glancing in through the fencing at her as they walk by.

A minute or so later, Moody goes back into the cell and lifts Ross’ head. When it falls again over the back of the wheelchair, he moves the chair so he can lean her head against a wall.

Ross remains that way for several minutes until intake staff arrive. Moody moves Ross, still in the wheelchair, into the open, where a worker rubs her knuckles into Ross’s sternum to see if she responds to pain.

There does not appear to be a response. After a few moments, the medical workers leave the room.

Ortega walks over to Ross and holds a hand over her mouth to see if she is breathing. It is unclear if she is breathing at that point, but the officer, who tries several more times to feel Ross’ breath, seems to realize something may be wrong.

At one point, he looks at a colleague and shakes his head. The movement of Ross’ body, clearly visible as she tried to breathe in the patrol car, appears to have ceased.

More than seven minutes have passed since Ross was dragged into the intake area.

Despite Ortega’s apparent concern, Ross is left sitting in the wheelchair for several more minutes as officers process and fingerprint a man just a couple of feet away from her. No one attempts to provide first aid.

Just over 12 minutes into the video, Fire-Rescue medics arrive. They, too, cannot get a pain response from Ross, who they immediately ease onto the floor, where they begin CPR.

According to the Ross family’s lawsuit, Dallas city officials, in response to her death, changed medical procedures during intake at all city detention facilities. Those changes require that a Dallas Fire-Rescue medic be on-site at all times to evaluate inmates as they are brought in and monitor them for medical emergencies while they are in custody.

Fire-Rescue officials have also “enhanced their field evaluation protocols to better determine those patients that should be transported directly to a hospital emergency facility” rather than the jail, the lawsuit states.

“Ross’ death in police custody was avoidable and she would be alive today if defendants provided immediate medical treatment,” the lawsuit states.

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