"I can't breathe. I have pneumonia."
Those were some of 35-year-old Michael Sabbie's last words before being crushed to death by prison guards at the Bi State Jail in Texarkana, Texas, last year. The stay-at-home father of four was originally detained after reports of a domestic dispute with his wife, Teresa, over family finances.
Allegedly, Sabbie threatened his wife over the course of the argument before leaving their home. He was charged with third-degree assault.
Five guards at the prison, which is run by a for-profit company, piled on top of Sabbie one day claiming that he was resisting arrest when in fact, he was pleading with officers to let him catch his breath.
Initial reports stated that Sabbie was found unresponsive in his cell, implying that he died of natural causes or at the very least without officer involvement.
A prison doctor made note of the man's obesity and cardiovascular issues as well, further reinforcing claims of natural death. In this case, however, there is video evidence that Sabbie's death was not some inevitable event. He was killed by guards in uniform while begging for his life.
Sabbie very well could have died from cardiovascular or respiratory complications, but that was only after he was thrown into a state of medical crisis.
Director David C. Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project has stated in the past that the creation of misleading medical reports in prisons is a national problem.
Regarding these reports, Fathi said, "If you look at the medical record, you often find egregious neglect and denial of care. If someone dies of cancer that went totally untreated, is that death from natural causes?”
Dehumanization is a core issue in the criminal justice system that leads to abuse and neglect. Such treatment sometimes has deadly consequences. That was certainly true in Sabbie's case.