Family of man who died in jail sues sheriff, deputy

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Two years ago, a Bovina man was found hanging in his cell at the Parmer County jail.

Now the family of Phillip Morris Griggs Jr. seeks $8 million in a lawsuit filed against the county’s sheriff and chief deputy.

Texas attorney Chuck Hester filed the complaint Feb. 17 in U.S. District Court in Amarillo, alleging Parmer County Sheriff Randy Geries and Chief Deputy Wayne Gruben violated Griggs’ constitutional rights.

Griggs, 22, died as a result of the “wrongful and unlawful acts” of Geries and Gruben, according to the lawsuit.

“I stand and tell you we honestly believe we didn’t do a thing wrong,” Geries said last week. “It’s unfortunate a man chose to take his life inside the jail. I feel for the family.”

The lawsuit asks that Griggs’ mother, Brenda Griggs, father Phillip Morris Griggs Sr., and mother of his child Mary Monzon receive financial compensation for Griggs’ wrongful death and rights violations.

On Feb. 22, 2004, Gruben went to Griggs’ cell to get him to wash a vehicle, and found Griggs hanging, according to the lawsuit.

Griggs was receiving special privileges as an inmate trustee because the jail staff believed he wasn’t a risk for inappropriate behavior, Geries said in a March 2004 interview with the CNJ.

Griggs hung for almost two hours before being cut down, and medical aid was never administered, the lawsuit said.

Griggs was being held on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated, and had been in the jail for 21 days before he died, Geries said in 2004.

Griggs’ constitutional rights were violated because he couldn’t afford to pay court fees and was never credited for the time he served in jail, according to the lawsuit.

Geries said Griggs had been in the jail before and had a good relationship with officials.

“He’s been in and out of trouble with the law and I’ve probably known him for at least two or three years,” Geries said in the 2004 interview. “We were comfortable around him and he was comfortable with us as well.

“We have no earthly idea why he did this; we’ve found no motive. We do everything we can possibly do to prevent something like this from happening.”

The lawsuit alleges sheriff’s officials knew Griggs might attempt suicide.

“A ‘mental disability/suicide intake screening’ form was completed at the time Phillip Morris Griggs Jr. was detained in the Parmer County jail, which indicated he was at risk for suicide,” according to the complaint.
Court dates have not been set, Hester said.