In early November, 37-year-old Sarah Tibbetts was in a motel room in Irving with her boyfriend, 35-year-old Jack Pritchard, when the police arrested both of them—Tibbetts for allegedly being in possession of someone else’s credit card and baggies containing trace amounts of marijuana, Pritchard on old warrants. Tibbetts had been convicted on misdemeanor charges in the past—trespassing and drug possession—and during her prior arrests, she had made it clear that she was a diabetic who was dependent on insulin.
According to a report from the Dallas Morning News, the jail staff was aware that Tribbetts needed the insulin (which is available over-the-counter in Texas)—they just limited their efforts at finding her the treatment she required to calling Tibbetts’ mother, who lives in California.
Family said that Tibbetts’ arrests usually ended with a minor charge being dropped and a trip to the hospital for insulin, which she either left behind or wasn’t allowed to use because it was improperly labeled.
But this time, something went wrong.
Rebecca Tibbetts, Sarah’s mother, said staff phoned her a day after the motel arrest and asked her to bring the medicine to jail.
“I said I’m in California. I can’t bring it up,” said Rebecca Tibbetts, who lives in that state. “I said my daughter is insulin-dependent and she will die without her insulin. If you can’t provide it, she needs to be sent to a hospital.”
The next morning, Sarah Tibbetts lay unconscious on the floor of her cell.
The Dallas Morning News reports that Pritchard, from his cell nearby, watched as his girlfriend of six years died in front of him.
The jail staff in Irving is currently under investigation. Two supervisors at the jail are currently under paid leave pending that investigation; criminal charges are a possibility, and Tibbetts’s mother raised the possibility of a wrongful death lawsuit in an interview with the Morning News.
A jail employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that staff knew Tibbetts needed insulin before her death. A police spokesman would not discuss the incident while the city investigates and the district attorney considers possible criminal charges — standard after an in-custody death.
“We want to find out what happened,” spokesman John Argumaniz said. “Everyone wants to make sure that in no way, shape or form do we jeopardize the investigation of the grand jury.”
Rebecca Tibbetts expects her daughter’s autopsy will link the death to diabetes and may file a wrongful death suit.
The possibility of criminal charges and civil lawsuits are presumably cold comfort for Tibbetts’s mother and for Pritchard. Comments on the Dallas Morning News‘ story posted online, meanwhile, are a mix of people who are outraged about Tibbetts’s death and those who are outraged by the money that will presumably be spent on the lawsuit. “Why should they take responsibility when she didn’t,” a commenter argued; another insisted, “When you do drugs the consequences can be dire,” as though a death from diabetic shock is a reasonable consequence of marijuana possession.
It’s a common argument when cases like these come up: the notion that people who are accused of crimes deserve whatever happens next, up to and including death. It’s something you can find when you look at the case of Kelvion Walker, the 19-year-old Dallas man who was shot and killed by police while witnesses say his hands were in the air and he was reclining in the passenger seat of a car believed to have been stolen. These comments appear on various stories from outlets on Walker’s death from the Dallas Observer and MyFoxDFW:
Whats the lesson learned here?
Just the first ones that come to mind.
1. Don’t steal cars and gunpoint.
2. Don’t ride around in a stolen car.
3. Don’t hide from the police and then surprise them when your in the act of committing a crime.
4. Get off drugs and get a job.
5. Don’t associate with criminals.
Those are neat arguments to make, that come with a moral self-righteousness that is satisfying to express. “Get off drugs and get a job” is not bad advice for most people without jobs who use drugs, but the idea that this is to be enforced under penalty of death—or, in the case of Walker, who is currently recovering from his gunshot wounds, merely severe injuries—is a particularly brutal stance to take.