Dallas Fire and Police Sued Over In-Custody Overdose Death

The mother of a woman who died of a drug overdose in 2018 while in police custody has filed suit against the Dallas police and fire departments. Diamond Ross, 34, died following her arrest that stemmed from a domestic incident on August 18, 2018. The arresting officers claim she was high on PCP at the time.

Her mother, Ethelyn Ross, filed suit last week in US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, alleging negligence, wrongful death, and an assortment of civil rights violations. As explained in the complaint:

  • On or about August 18, 2018, DPD Officers Moody and Ortega responded to a 911 call regarding a domestic disturbance in South Dallas.
  • Upon arriving on the scene, Moody and Ortega found Ross to be incoherent and she was in desperate need of medical attention and treatment.
  • DFR paramedics arrived on the scene and did not provide Ross with proper medical attention or treatment.
  • DPD body camera footage shows Ross requesting water and complaining of shortness of breath. Ross can be heard on DPD dash camera footage stating “I can’t breathe.”
  • A DPD officer is also heard on the body camera footage stating “we see her [Ross] all the time at the QT…every time I see her [Ross] she is high on wet.” [Note: Wet is slang for a marijuana cigarette that has been dipped in PCP or another substance, typically phencyclidine or formaldehyde, resulting in a high like that of PCP.]
  • 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 (“Detention Facility”) rather than transporting Ross directly to a hospital emergency facility.
  • 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 complaint includes seven counts, namely:

  • Count I – 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Larry Moody and William Ortega)
  • Count II – Willful and Wanton—Survival (Larry Moody and William Ortega)
  • Count III – Willful and Wanton—Wrongful Death (Larry Moody and William Ortega)
  • Count IV – Negligence (Larry Moody and William Ortega)
  • Count V – Negligence (City of Dallas)
  • Count VI – 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988/Monnell Policy Claim (City of Dallas)
  • Count VII – Violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (City of Dallas)

Rehabilitation Act (City of Dallas)

Here is a copy of the complaint:

Here is an extensive news article about the lawsuit that includes bodycam and security cam footage of the circumstances surround the incident.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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