SEE OUR KETK NEWS TELEVISED EXCLUSIVE REPORT: PART I ‘THE COST OF A LIFE’
‘THE COST OF A LIFE’
TYLER, Texas (KETK) – On the morning of May 14, 2017, a handcuffed and disheveled Teddy Parker was led into the Smith County Jail where he was to be booked on a public intoxication charge. About 30 minutes later, he was carried out unconscious on a stretcher.
The 32-year-old man never regained consciousness. He died two days later at ETMC, now UT Health Tyler. His mother, Christine Parker, an invalid who often depended on him for help, made the heartbreaking decision to remove him from life support.
Doctors told her that her son was brain dead.
SEE OUR KETK NEWS TELEVISED EXCLUSIVE REPORT: PART II ‘THE COST OF A LIFE’
When Parker was being booked in, jail employees and arresting officers tried to remove his earrings, which for some reason were not budging. Parker cried out in pain and sometimes jerked his head when they pulled and twisted on the earrings. He was told to stay calm and be still.
While being held down on the floor of a padded cell and law officers pulling on the earrings, Parker spat. At least one person immediately pulled Parker’s shirt up to his face to prevent him from spitting again.
A short time later, Parker, who had earlier admitted to taking meth, turned purple and became unresponsive.
Jailers and police officers were not sure if he was still breathing and checked for a pulse. They called for emergency medical personnel, who quickly arrived.
A lawsuit alleges the law officer or officers who pulled Parker’s shirt up, pressed their hands down on his face, which cut off his air supply. The officers used excessive force and others did not stop what was happening, the lawsuit says.
It also accuses the law officers of purposefully altering or wording their reports to hide wrongdoing.
The wrongful death lawsuit names as defendants jail employees Raquel Rodriguez, Lionel Hernandez, Shawn Jones, Jose Iglesias and Zane Lucas; Tyler police officers Brandon Lott and Joshua Smedley; the city of Tyler; and Smith County.
None of the jailers and police officers have been found guilty of doing anything wrong. A medical examiner concluded that “the toxic effects of methamphetamine” killed Parker, not suffocation.
The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as “accident.”
The city of Tyler has since paid $300,000 to settle its portion of the lawsuit. The settlement is not an admission of guilt.
The civil lawsuit against the county continues to move forward. It could be settled out of court or it could end up being settled in a trial.
Smith County released the following statement: “Smith County – as a policy – does not comment on pending or threatened litigation and will not try this matter in any forum other than the appropriate court setting. Nevertheless, Smith County always grieves the loss of any life, and the same is true in this instance. Smith County looks forward to presenting all of the evidence in this matter to a jury for deliberation and decision, and is confident that a jury will support our conclusion that neither the county, nor any individual acting on behalf of or through the county, caused the death of Teddy Wayne Parker.”
Mrs. Parker has retained the the Addison, Texas, law firm Scott H. Palmer P.C. She is being represented by Palmer and attorney James Roberts.
“It wasn’t much of a decision (whether to take the case) on our part,” Palmer told KETK News. “I mean this looked horrible from the outset. Once we obtained the (police bodycam) videos, it was crystal clear to us that this is a horrible case … and the fact that it got no attention was alarming to me.”
Added Roberts, “When I looked at the reports and the videos, it was apparent to both Scott and myself that this was … a homicide, it was murder and that is when we had to take the case to make sure justice happened.”
On Dec. 9, 2020, Tyler City Council met in city hall for a regular meeting. The mayor and council heard an update on COVID-19 cases, considered zoning changes and approved spending $1 million to extend Three Lakes Parkway.
The council was presented 16 items on the consent agenda. According to the agenda: “These items are considered to be routine or have been previously discussed and can be approved in one motion, unless a Council Member asks for separate consideration of an item.”
The final item on the consent agenda — C-A-16 – was: “Request that the City Council consider ratifying the Settlement of the Christine Parker v. City of Tyler and Smith County, Texas, et al. lawsuit.”
At 2 hours and 52 minutes into the meeting, Mayor Don Warren called for the council to act on the Consent Agenda. Councilman Bob Westbrook made a motion to approve the items (with the exception of one) and Broderick McGee seconded the motion.
The council then voted unanimously by voice to do so. It all took about one minute.
There was no discussion on what the Christine Parker v. City of Tyler and Smith County, Texas, et al. lawsuit was about.
No information was given on the amount of money the city agreed to pay Christine Parker.
The council did not discuss whether the two police officers named in the lawsuit acted inappropriately.
KETK News began asking questions and obtained the lawsuit, the settlement with the city, the autopsy on Parker and other documents. The station reviewed the video from Smedley’s bodycam, which shows, often in unsettling clarity, what happened before Parker lost consciousness.
All raise questions. What caused Teddy Parker’s death? Should anyone be held responsible?
The following is the result of KETK’s investigation into the death of Teddy Parker. It is written in five parts.
- Part I: What the witnesses say
- Part II: What the video shows
- Part III: Missing Teddy
- Part IV: Allegations of wrongdoing
- The V: Getting ready for trial
Content warning: Part I describes what happened to Parker by people who were in the room when he lost consciousness. Some people may find the accounts disturbing. Part II includes a description of the video and transcription of the audio that captured what happened.
PART I: WHAT THE WITNESSES SAY
‘Parker’s eyes were glossy’
At 6:22 a.m. on May 14, 2017, a man who lives in the 900 block of Meadow Lane called the police department to report that a man in shorts and a tank top had just tried to get into his car parked outside.
The caller told the dispatcher the man was walking down the street, headed south. Officers Smedley and Lott responded to the call of a suspicious person. Smedley wrote in his Reporting Officer Narrative that when he arrived in the neighborhood located between North Glenwood Boulevard and West Gentry Parkway, the man was lying on his back and “striking the ground with his fists.”
“I approached the male and noticed that his body was writhing and jerking,” Smedley noted. “Often he would bite down and clinch his teeth.”
The officers learned from his driver’s license that they were dealing with Teddy Wayne Parker. Smedley wrote in his report that “there was an alert stating that Parker was violent.” This was not the first time law officers had dealt with Parker.
Smith County Judicial Records show Parker had been arrested several times dating back to 2006, when Whitehouse police charged him with buying liquor for a minor. He was charged with the same crime in 2007 and 2008. His record includes arrests for not keeping his motor vehicle registration up to date, driving without a license and not having auto insurance.
In 2015 he was booked into Smith County Jail for driving while intoxicated; in 2016 he was charged with public intoxication. During his two intoxication arrests, Parker was also charged with resisting arrest.
Parker told officers he was in the neighborhood because “people were after him and he was trying to rest,” Smedley noted.
While being questioned, Parker admitted to using meth. Smedley put in his report, “He initially said that he used meth five days ago, then he later said it was two days ago.”
Parker was alert and answered Lott and Smedley’s questions, according to the lawsuit.
“Parker’s emotions would change almost instantly to calmness to extreme anger,” Smedley noted. “He smelled of alcohol and his clothes were soiled. Parker’s eyes were glossy and bloodshot. Parker’s appearance of intoxication was extreme.”
He wrote that Parker was not always cooperative. “During the search incident (prior) to arrest, he grabbed my fingers and kept pulling away from officers. He had to be held upward to search his person.”
Smedley and Lott took Parker in custody.
“Parker was handcuffed without incident and the cuffs were double-locked after being checked for proper fitting,” Smedley wrote.
The lawsuit says Parker was “compliant and noncombative” and “stood up and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed without resistance.”
While being led to Smedley’s patrol car, “Parker thought officers were going to shoot him and kept pulling away,” Smedley wrote.
While in Smedley’s patrol car riding to jail, “Parker was not combative or resistant,” according to the lawsuit.
Smedley wrote that “Parker was unable to keep still. Also, he would tell me to shut up and moments later he would apologize.”
Smedley, with Parker restrained, was joined at the jail by Lott and jailers.
‘I attempted to take the earrings out’
Officer Incident Reports submitted by Rodriguez, Iglesias, Jones and Lucas and Smedley’s Reporting Officer Narrative shine light on what happened to Parker.
Problems began when those in Central Jail Book-in tried to remove Parker’s earrings.
Smedley: “While at the jail, Parker was pulling away from the jailers and would not hold still while being searched. Parker began to sweat profusely, and it was difficult to remove his earrings.”
Rodriguez: “I attempted to take the earrings out of subject Parker, but he was sweating and would not stop moving. At approximately 0650 hours (6:50 a.m.), Officer Hernandez, Officer Lott, and Officer Smedley escorted Parker to the padded cell so he could sit and calm down.”
In the cell, they were joined by jailers Shawn Jones, Jose Iglesias, Zane Lucas, Lionel Hernandez and others.
Rodriguez: “I attempted to remove his earrings again, however, subject Parker started to resist and become uncooperative to where I could no longer attempt to remove his earrings safely. Subject Parker became combative and spit at us, hitting Officer Hernandez in the neck (with spit).”
Smedley: “Parker went to his knees and I tried to hold his head still by holding the crown of his head. The jailers were unable to remove his earrings. Also, I was unable to remove his earrings. Parker began to writhe and twist his body. approximately (cq) 4 jailers and I were trying to hold him still.”
Jones: “I … noticed Officers Hernandez and Rodriguez with Deputy Lott holding inmate Teddy Parker (who) was being uncooperative with the officers and didn’t want to follow appropriate orders. Officer Hernandez had mentioned that they went straight to the padded cell and that no one had the chance to pat the inmate down. They then searched the inmate while he was handcuffed and removed all items on his clothing. Officers Rodriguez and Hernandez also noticed that inmate Parker had on some earrings and wanted to remove them from the inmate. When Officer Hernandez tried to remove one of the earrings, inmate Parker spit (cq) on Officer Hernandez’s face.”
Lucas entered the cell at 6:52 a.m. Lucas: “I saw that Officer Rodriguez, Officer Hernandez, and the arresting Officer (were) on top of him trying to take off his earing’s (cq).”
After being told by Hernandez to leave and do another task, Lucas returned three minutes later.
Lucas: “I re-entered the padded cell to help keep arrestee Teddy Parker to keep him restrain (cq). Officer Hernandez had his knee’s (cq) on his thighs and Officer Rodriguez and the arresting officer where (cq) trying to take his earing’s (cq) so I came to keep Teddy Parker restrained. I put most of the pressure on his right shoulder and had my other hand on his upper chest area to keep him restrained because he was jerking. While I was keeping him restrained, he started to spit at officer Hernandez.”
Iglesias: “I walked towards the padded cell and noticed Officers Hernandez and Rodriguez with Deputy Lot holding inmate Teddy Parker down. Teddy Parker was being uncooperative with the officers and didn’t want to follow orders. Officer Hernandez had mentioned that they went straight to the padded cell and that no one had the chance to pat the inmate down. So they searched the inmate while he was handcuffed and removed all items located on his clothing. Officers Hernandez and Rodriguez also noticed that inmate Parker had on some earrings and wanted to remove them from the inmate. When Officer Hernandez tried to remove one of the earrings, inmate Parker spat on Officer Hernandez’s face.”
‘We had his mouth and nose covered’
Smedley: “He (Parker) started to spit, so I pulled his shirt up to create a spit shield.”
Rodriguez: After Parker spat, “Officer Lott and I then placed his shirt over only his mouth, ensuring airflow was not impeded to prevent further spitting. Officer Smedley then attempted to remove Subject’s earrings but failed to do so due to Parker resisting and moving his head.”
Iglesias: After Parker spat, “Officer Rodriguez than (cq) held the inmate’s shirt an inch over his mouth so that he could not spit on anybody else. Deputy Lott informed inmate Parker that he had to relax, that we were just trying to remove his jewelry.”
Lucas wrote in his report that the shirt covered both the mouth and nose.
Lucas: After Parker spat, “Officer Hernandez, Z Lucas (himself) Rodriguez, and the arresting Officer pulled his shirt over his nose. When we had his mouth and nose covered, I returned to keeping pressure on his right shoulder and his upper right chest area. At which time first shift book-in officers came in to see what was going on. I told one of the first-shift, book-in officers that his earring’s (cq) aren’t coming off so he said let me try.”
Smedley: “Parker stopped moving and his faced turned purple. Parkers (cq) handcuffs were removed and he was put on his back. Officer Lott began saving Parker’s life by performing rescue breathing and directing everyone else involved Parker had a pulse but his breathing was undetectable. EMS and fire were called to the scene and assisted Officer Lott while he was preserving Parker’s life. Officer Lott rode with Parker on the Ambulance as the was transported to ETMC. I overheard the hospital staff say that he was not breathing on his own but they were keeping him alive.”
Smedley ended his report: “Parker was admitted into the Hospital so he was not charged with public intoxication. No use of force was used on Parker.”
Rodriguez: “At approximately 0703 (7:03 a.m.) hours, I noticed Subject Parker had his eyes wide open, had turned blue, and was unresponsive. I immediately informed officers to call a code blue (medical emergency) and Officer Lott had advised 911 to be called. We placed subject Parker on his side and removed handcuffs. Medical staff responded immediately and took over life-saving measures. At approximately 0722 (7:22 a.m.) hours, EMS loaded Subject Parker onto the stretcher and into the ambulance.”
Lucas: “At approximately 0702 (7:02 a.m.) the arresting Officer and Officer Rodriquez said he was blue and unresponsive. At that time Officer Rodriguez called a code blue and told first book-in officer to call the code. As the code was being called we flip (cq) him over and i (cq) officer Z. Lucas pulled his wrist up so the first shift Officer could take off the handcuffs.”
Continued Lucas: “As we were taking off his handcuffs Nurse Cindy and Nurse Mary came into the padded cell and told us to put him on his side and said we will as soon as we take off his handcuffs. When we took off his handcuffs and nurse Cindy started to apply CPR while nurse Mary was getting the defilbrillator on Teddy Paker. When nurse Cindy was doing CPR i (cq) was told by nurse Cindy to stand back. At 0710 (7:10 a.m.) is when firefighters and EMS showed up and thats (cq) when one of the nurse’s (cq) said “everybody stand back and let the Ems (cq) takeover”, (cq) so I left the room while firefighters and Ems (cq) was walking into the room.”
Jones: “I then noticed inmate Parkers (cq) beginning to change to a purple color and his breathing had slowed down tremendously. Officer Hernandez than (cq) told officers to call a cold blue. I stepped back calling the code blue and then began taking off Parkers (cq) handcuffs. Upon arrival nurse Hernandez and Mary they began to question why said inmate was in the facility.”
Continued Jones: “Nurse Mary was looking for a pulse and had us turn inmate Parker on his side. Nurse Cindy soon arrived and noticed that Parker wasn’t moving and soon told the officers that she was going to begin CPR. She then began compressions. Deputy Lott brought in a breathing apparatus as they continued CPR. Burse (cq) Cindy no change in Parkers (cq) breathing and said that they needed someone to call EMS. Prestrige called for EMS to arrive because inmate Parker was not responding. EMS sent the Fire Department over (and) they came in with a portable defibrillator.”
Iglesias: “At this point inmate Parker began to hold his breath and turn was turning purple, Officer Rodriguez than (cq) told officers to call a code blue. A code blue was called and nurse Hernandez arrived along with Nurse Mary and they were asking why the inmate was in the facility, Nurse Mary was looking for a pulse and had us turn inmate Parker on his side. Nurse Cindy soon arrived and noticed that Parker wasn’t moving and soon told the officers that she was going to start compressing his chest.”
Continued Iglesias: “Deputy Lott brought in a breathing apparatus and they began CPR. Nurse Cindy noticed no change in Parker’s breathing and said that they needed someone to call EMS. Sgt. Prestridge called for EMS to arrive because inmate Parker was not responding. EMS sent the Fire Department over and they came in with a portable defibrillator.”
Iglesias finished by noting that EMS and firefighters “were aware that the inmate was in the facility due to the inmate consuming an abundance of meth.”
PART II: WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS
‘Just try to hold still’
Palmer and Roberts provided KETK with Smedley’s body camera footage from the time Smedley enters the jail with Parker until rescue personnel arrive. It covers about 30 minutes.
Smedley is close to Parker the entire time Parker is in the jail. Smedley stands above and to the side of Parker when Parker is on the floor of the cell.
A few times, people in the room between Smedley and Parker block the camera. At times, the audio is not clear because people are using muffled voices or speaking at the same time.
People are identified in the transcript below as “jailer” when some may be, and likely are, one of the Tyler police officers and not a jail staff member. In some cases, the person seen and/or heard, can be identified based on the statements in the witness/participant reports above.
As Parker gets out of the patrol car at the jail, an officer tells him, “good job buddy” and “we’ve got to keep you safe.”
The officer guiding Parker tells him, “There you go.”
In the book-in room, Parker obeys instructions to lean against a wall. A jailer tells him, “stay right there, man.”
“I’m going to take this erring off OK,” says a jailer. Parker is told to “try to hold still.”
Parker bends down so the jailer can remove an earring. Parker says he is trying to be still but is exhausted. He says he took meth two days ago.
Jailers cannot get the earring out. “Just try to hold still,” says a jailer holding Parker from behind. “We are going to let you rest here in a second.”
“I’m sorry,” Parker apologizes.
Jailers lead Parker into a nearby room (identified earlier as the padded cell). Jailers make him sit on the floor. He complies with instructions to learn toward the jailer trying to get the earring out.
“I am so sorry brother,” one of the jailers says, acknowledging Parker’s pain.
“What are you grinding on, your teeth?” asks a jailer.
“Yes sir,” Parker replies. A jailer pulls on one of the earrings.
“Oh sh–, oh sh–,” Parker cries.
“Lean forward again man,” a jailer instructs Parker, adding that doing so “will make it easier.” Parker screams “Oh sh–.”
“You’re fine,” one of the jailers reassures Parker.
Smedley’s body camera is above Parker. It shows a jailer trying to remove an earring and two jailers with hands on Parker’s shoulders.
Jailers tell Parker to keep his head still and that when they get the earrings out they will give him water.
“I am so sorry people,” says Parker, who is breathing heavily. “I swear to God. I’m so sorry people. I swear to God I am.”
Jailers ask him if he is on any drugs besides meth.
“No that’s it,” he replies.
A jailer working to get an earring out tells Parker, “It’s going to hurt man, I know.”
Parker remains on the cell floor.
“Try to keep your head still, man,” encourages a jailer. A jailer questions whether the earring should be twisted or pulled.
Parker continues to cry, “Oh sh–” and moves his head.
“Relax, relax man,” a jailer tells him.
“I don’t think they’re going to come off,” a jailer says of the earrings.
A few minutes have passed since jailers began trying to remove the earrings. One jailer holds Parker’s head and one has his hand around the back of Parker’s neck as another continues trying to get an earring out.
Jailers comment that Parker is sweaty and “slick.” Parker is told to “hang on, relax.”
A jailer tries to remove the earring from a different ear than they had been working on.
“Hang on man, quit moving. Try to hold still.”
Parker jerks his head.
“That ain’t helping. You got to relax,” a jailer says. “You said you’re tired. Just relax. Just lean back. We’ll take care of you.”
“How do you get these things off, Teddy?” asks a jailer, who sounds frustrated.
“This sh– s—-, dude,” says Parker. “I don’t even know what I did bro!”
A jailer twists an earring. Others have their hands on Parker’s shoulders and head.
“They are not even budging at all,” says a jailer. “Relax, relax, relax,” encourages a jailer.
“You’re fine, Teddy.”
“That’s some bull—-,” Parker cries out.
“Hold still Teddy, we’re trying to get this earring off you man. Hang on man, you’re making it harder,” a jailer says when Parker jerks his head.
Parker is slumped against a wall. Jailers try to hold him still. “Just relax man, you’re fine,” encourages the jailer trying to remove the earring.
Parker screams more loudly and moves more.
“Take it easy!” A jailer temporarily blocks the bodycam.
“Should we strap him in that chair,” questions a jailer.
Jailers press down on Parker’s head and shoulders.
“Get his shoes off,” says a jailer. “Relax man. Take it easy.”
“What’s wrong man?”
Parker lets out a burst of short and loud moans.
‘Don’t spit. He’s spitting’
The shoulder of a jailer blocks the bodycam. “Don’t spit,” calls out a jailer. “He’s spitting.”
“You’ve got to take it easy.”
Someone suggests they “pull his shirt up.”
A jailer between Smedley and Parker temporarily blocks the camera. Parker is heard saying, “uh, uh, uh.” His breathing has become labored.
The back of a jailer’s head blocks the bodycam. Parker continues moaning. When the jailer blocking the camera moves, the bodycam shows Parker on the cell floor. His shirt has been pulled up and covers part of his face.
Some jailers have hands on Parker’s head and face. Jailers hold Parker’s head. “Relax man. Relax!” “Teddy, you supposed to be tired. Lay back,” a jailer tells him. “Relax man.”
A jailer’s shoulder partially blocks the bodycam. Parker is moaning loudly. A jailer has a hand on Parker’s partially covered face. Another tries again to remove the earring. “They’re not coming off.”
Parker lets out short moans.
PHOTOS TAKEN FROM BODY-CAMERA VIDEO OF PARKER INSIDE THE SMITH COUNTY JAIL. SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING TO VIEW
“Just relax man.”
A jailer’s shoulder again blocks the bodycam. A jailer tells someone who apparently has just entered the cell that they are having trouble getting Parker’s earrings out.
“Teddy just breathe and relax,” a jailer tells Parker.
Parker’s moans become quieter.
The bodycam is blocked by a jailer and for a few seconds the audio does not pick up everything.
“I got spit on,” a jailer says.
Parker is silent.
“Hey! “one of the jailers calls out, apparently to Parker.
‘He ain’t breathin’’ “He ain’t breathin’,” a jailer says.
The jailer who had been blocking the body camera moves revealing Parker on the cell floor. His shirt is no longer pulled up to his face. Parker’s face looks dark. His eyes are closed. He is not moving.
“He’s not breathing. Hang on!” a jailer calls to Parker.
A jailer lifts Parker’s head. “Rotate him.” Two jailers move Parker onto his side.
“Call code! Call code!” at least one jailer, and possibly two, scream.
Jailers roll Parker onto his stomach. Some pat his back.
“Breathe for us man!”
“We need medical staff ASAP.”
“Teddy! Teddy! Breathe man!”
They continue patting his back. Parker is unresponsive.
“A very light pulse,” a jailer tells others. “Try to breathe man! Breathe, breathe, start breathing,” pleads a jailer. “Teddy breathe for us.”
Parker is still in handcuffs and lying face down. A jailer removes the handcuffs. Another rolls Parker onto his side. Parker’s mouth and eyes are open, but he does not respond.
Several jailers remain over him. One has a hand on the back of Parker’s head. “
“Breathe for us man. Breathe!”
A jailer tilts Parker’s head. Parker’s eyes appear to roll up and into the back of his head. Parker remains unresponsive.
A jailer questions whether someone should begin compressing Parker’s chest.
“He’s got a pulse right?” asks a jailer. “He’s shaking,” comments another.
Someone checks Parker’s neck for a pulse. “Teddy breathe!”
Jailers move Parker onto his back. Parker’s mouth is open; his eyes are closed. A jailer rubs Parker’s chest. Jailers continue telling Parker to breathe.
Parker is still unresponsive.
Is he breathing?”
“I thought I heard him take a breath.”
“Breathe buddy! Teddy!”
“He’s shaking a little bit.”
Parker is still and silent. Jailers pull Parker’s shirt up to his neck and put his arms to his sides as someone enters the room with a defibrillator. A recorded message is heard providing instructions on how to use the defibrillator.
A woman in a white coat enters and appears to direct the medical response.
“Press pad firmly,” the recorded instructions of the defibrillator says. Those in the room are quiet.
Some place the pads on Parker and, as instructed by the message, and stand back.
The message says to begin chest compressions and “rescue breath.”
Smedley steps out of the room. Moments later his body camera records someone calling out, “Hey guys, EMS is here.”
‘Deeply loved by all who know him’
The EMS rushed Parker to ETMC where family members gathered. They never received the news they were hoping for – that Teddy would be all right. Parker never regained consciousness.
“I was told that Teddy was in the hospital and that it did not look good and that I needed to hurry up,” Mrs. Parker recalls. “It was the worst phone call of my life.”
She said that she was told Teddy’s heart had stopped and he was brought back to life.
Over the next two days, she watched helplessly as her son slowly died before her eyes.
On May 16, Mrs. Parker, on the advice of doctors, agreed to have Teddy removed from the machines that were keeping him alive. Teddy Parker died that day at 3:35 p.m.
His obituary noted that Parker graduated from Whitehouse High School in 2003 and was a big sports fan. He especially loved the Dallas Cowboys.
Mrs. Parker said Teddy loved golf and was very competitive in most sports.
“He will be deeply remembered for his true loving nature and ability to never meet a stranger. Teddy is deeply loved by all that know him and will be missed,” the obituary said.
On May 22, 2017, Parker’s friends and family attended his “celebration of life service” at Tyler Memorial Funeral Home.
PART III: MISSING TEDDY
‘I think of him every second of every day’
Christine Parker lives at the end of a small road near Overton in a one-room portable building that looks like a storage shed.
Her bed sits in the middle of one large room. A shower curtain in the back of the room designates her bathroom. On the other side of the room is an efficiency kitchen.
She has been confined to a wheelchair since 2009, when she broke her back in a car accident.
“The car flipped four times and hit a tree,” she said. “The only thing I remember is pulling on my seat belt.”
The accident causes her to be dependent on others for many things.
When Parker’s husband divorced her and “walked out of my life,” she called her son, Teddy, who at the time was living in another state.
“He quit his job and came home to take care of me,” Parker said.
She told Teddy she thought it was best that she go into a nursing home to receive the care she desperately needed. Teddy insisted that was not going to happen.
He told me, “not on my watch.”
Teddy treated his mother’s painful pressure sores. He cooked her food. He mowed the grass. He made repairs. Teddy helped her when others in her family did not.
“He made me laugh,” Parker said.
Parker keeps the ashes of Teddy in a brass and marble urn on a coffee table near her bed.
“I think of him every second of every day,” she said. “He was my world.”
Parker now has a caretaker that comes in and helps take care of her. She lives next to the home of her sister, who also helps watch her.
But, nearly four years after Teddy’s death, Parker still misses her son.
“I still grieve,” she said as she looks at photos of Teddy. “I miss him so bad — every second of every day.”
Parker wears a small heart-shaped locket around her neck. The locket holds a few of Teddy’s ashes.
It is her way of keeping Teddy close to her heart.
“I would give everything to have him back,” she said.
Parker said Teddy was “taken from her” and that she wants to see “justice” prevail. She wants people to know what happened to her son.
‘She never stopped loving Teddy’
“Mrs. Parker loved her son Teddy,” Roberts said. “I don’t think that any mother doesn’t love her son, but Mrs. Parker really loved her son, Teddy. She calls him her New Year’s baby. He was born, I believe, on Jan. 2 just following New Year, and every time that a New Year comes up, it makes her think of him and makes her miss him more. She loves Teddy. She never stopped loving Teddy just because he died. Any time you talk to her, that’s what you are going to come away with. She’s a mother who has lost her son but still loves him very deeply.”
Added Palmer: “I will tell you that I’ve been practicing law for 24 years and I don’t know if I’ve seen this much trauma to a mother for losing a child. He was just incredibly special to her. They had a special relationship. They were very close. He understood that she (as someone who is in wheelchair) required care that no child should have to give to any parent, but he rose to the occasion.
“Again, I think she is so devastated by his loss,” he continued. “It has left her with really not much to choose from other than having to get caretakers. She requires a lot of help to do her average daily living. Teddy would help her with that. … This loss is incalculable in that sense.”
‘She seems to can’t get over this’
Palmer and Roberts want to help Mrs. Parker move on with her life.
“This has taken a tremendous toll on her psyche,” Palmer said. “It’s like when your brain is in stress and in crisis because you’ve lost a loved one. And we’re going on four years in May (since Teddy died). Christine seems to be kind of hovering in that area where she seems to can’t get over this. … She goes back to the way he passed away. The way he was taken from her.”
Parker still is burdened that she had to take her son off life support, Roberts said.
“He was there (in the hospital on life support) for two or three days and then she had to make the decision to take him off life support — on the recommendation that he wasn’t going to get better. Not only was her son taken from her but in her own mind she played some sort of roll in it.”
“It (the pain) is still pretty raw,” Palmer added. “She’s a very emotional woman. Teddy was the most dear child and relative to her. He’s gone. … That’s something she’s going to live with, and she does, every day. And it’s tragic.”
PART IV: ALLEGATONS OF WRONGDOING
‘Mr. Parker was suffocated’
The lawsuit does not dispute that Parker was under the influence of a drug. However, it presents a different version of events.
“In a tragic turn of events, Mr. Parker was held down by multiple law enforcement officers, had his mouth covered and nose covered with his shirt and latex gloves to the point that he could not breathe and was suffocated until he turned blue and was nonresponsive,” says the lawsuit.
The lawsuit provides the following narrative of what happened after Parker spat.
“Instead of using a mesh, breathable spit mask, which is designed to keep the inmate safe, Defendants Rodriguez, Hernandez, Lucas, Lott and Smedley pulled Mr. Parker’s shirt over his nose and mouth. … Defendants Jones and Iglesias, while holding Mr. Parker down and only a few inches from defendants Rodriguez, Hernandez, Lucas, Lott and Smedley, watched as Mr. Parker’s shirt was pulled over his nose and mouth. Once they had Mr. Parker’s shirt over his nose and mouth, defendant Lucas returned to applying pressure on Mr. Parker’s right shoulder and upper right chest area.”
It says Rodriguez, Lott and Smedley pressed down on the shirt pulled over Parker’s mouth and nose “blocking both airways.”
While this was happening, Hernandez, Lucas, Iglesias and Jones “were on top of Mr. Parker applying pressure to his body and preventing his lungs from taking in full breaths.”
“Defendant Rodriguez used her latex glove to pinch the shirt around Mr. Parker’s nose with her pointer and middle fingers and held her palm over Mr. Parker’s mouth completely restricting the airflow through his nose and mouth.
“Defendants Rodriguez, Lott, and Smedley held the shirt directly over Mr. Parker’s mouth with their hands wrapped in latex gloves, which completely restricted the airflow through his mouth. Mr. Parker could not breath as defendants Hernandez, Iglesias, Jones and Lucas held him down with pressure over his body and lungs and defendants Rodriguez, Lott, and Smedley suffocated him with latex gloves and his own shirt.
“Defendants Rodriguez, Hernandez, Lott, Smedley, Jones, Iglesias and Lucas all were well aware that Mr. Parker’s airways were being blocked by fellow officers’ latex gloves and his shirt; however, they all failed to stop the constitutional violation from happening.
“Mr. Parker was suffocated for over two minutes while defendants Rodriguez, Hernandez, Lott, Smedley, Jones, Iglesias and Lucas watched, were aware of what was happening and within arm’s reach of stopping it and chose to do nothing.”
The lawsuit claims the force used on Parker “was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances and inflicted unnecessary injury and suffering.”
Parker seeks money to recover funeral and burial experiences and to be compensated for loss of her son’s protection, care, companionship and comfort.
‘Reports were altered’
Palmer and Roberts told KETK News they believe the law officers not only are responsible for Parker’s death but some worded or changed their reports to hide wrongdoing.
“I think that what we have in this case is jailers causing the death of someone coming up with a reason that is not true for why that person died and actually having the reports changed,” Roberts said.
“We have found through our discovery in this case that reports were altered and included false information to try and help put forth this idea that his mouth and nose were not covered and that was not the reason why he stopped breathing (in order) to help support their idea that this was methamphetamine overdose or simply cardiac arrest, at the very moment when he had his mouth and nose covered.
“The video shows his mouth and nose were covered. We have depositions that we have taken where an officer that was present stated that he saw the mouth and nose covered and that he was instructed to change his report to make sure that it said that the mouth and nose were not covered,” continued Roberts.
Added Palmer: “There has definitely been a concerted effort on a part of a lot of witnesses to alter the narrative to be a different reality than what we are seeing on this video. So, we don’t like to use those terms (cover up) necessarily but something was not right with the way this was handled.
“Mr. Roberts took a lot of depositions. We have a few more to go and the inconsistencies with the reports and then the way we have been able to reveal the truth in the depositions is quite telling,” he continued.
The lawsuit cites inconsistencies among jailers’ statements and says portions of their accounts is not supported by the bodycam video. The lawsuit says: “Defendant Rodriguez wrote in her officer incident report that she ‘placed his shirt over only his mouth ensuring airflow was not impeded.’ However, this statement is simply not true. Defendant Rodriguez can clearly be seen in defendant’s body camera covering Mr. Parker’s mouth and nose and pinching his nose between his middle and pointer fingers.
“Defendant Rodriguez’s statement is further contradicted by defendant Lucas’ statement that, ‘Officer Hernandez, Z. Lucas, Rodriguez, and the arresting officer pulled his shirt over his nose. When we had his mouth and nose covered, I returned to keeping pressure on his right shoulder and his upper chest area.’”
The lawsuit notes most of the jail employees and Smedley reported the shirt was not pressed down over Parker’s mouth and did not cover Parker’s nose.
Jones: “Officer Rodriguez then held the inmate’s shirt about 1 inch over his mouth.”
Iglesias: “Officer Rodriguez then held the inmate’s shirt an inch over his mouth.”
Smedley: “The shirt was pulled up over his mouth but still one inch away from his mouth so he could breath.”
“It is clear that the defendants were instructed to write in their reports that Mr. Parker’s shirt was one inch from his mouth. However, it is also clear from the video that his shirt was held with latex gloves directly over his mouth and nose preventing him from breathing and ultimately resulting in his death,” the lawsuit says.
Jones and Iglesias submitted reports that “are almost verbatim,” according to the lawsuit.
Jones: “On the above date and approximate time, I officer S. Jones was assigned to the property room and was in route to book in when 1st floor picket announced over the intercom that there was guy being placed in the padded cell.”
Iglesias: “On the above date and approximate time, I officer Iglesias was going to my post in book in when 1st floor picket announced over the intercom that there was guy being placed in the padded cell.
Jones: “I then walked towards the padded cell and noticed Officers Hernandez and Rodriguez with Deputy Lott holding inmate Teddy Parker was being uncooperative with the officers and didn’t want to follow appropriate orders.”
Iglesias: “I walked towards the padded cell and noticed Officers Hernandez and Rodriguez with Deputy Lott holding inmate Teddy Parker down. Teddy Parker was being uncooperative with the officers and didn’t want to follow orders.”
They both used the same wording: “Officer Hernandez had mentioned that they went straight to the padded cell and that no one had the chance to pat the inmate down. … Officers Rodriguez also noticed that inmate Parker had on some earrings and wanted to remove them from the inmate.”
Later, they both wrote: “Deputy Lott informed inmate parker that he had to relax, that we were just trying to remove his jewelry.”
In their versions of this sentence, they disagree on who called cold blue but had the same grammatical mistake. Jones: “Officer Hernandez than told officers to call a cold blue.” Iglesias: “Officer Rodriguez than told officers to call a cold blue.”
PART V: GETTING READY FOR TRIAL
‘Arrestee became combative and uncooperative’
The day after Parker died, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office released this statement:
“On Sunday, May 14, 2017, at approximately 6:45 am, Tyler Police Department Patrol Officers arrived at the Smith County Jail with a combative arrestee and requested assistance in getting the arrestee into the jail. During the early stages of the booking process, the arrestee became combative and uncooperative and was placed in a padded cell to prevent injury to himself and officers. Officers were attempting to remove earrings from the arrestee at which time he began spitting on them.
“A short time later the arrestee was observed to be turning blue in the face and was unresponsive. A Code Blue (medical emergency) was called and lifesaving procedures were initiated to include an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). EMS and Tyler Fire Department personnel arrived a short time later and continued lifesaving operations. The arrestee was reported to be responsive upon leaving the jail facility.
“The arrestee was identified as 32-year- old Teddy Wayne Parker of Whitehouse. “The arrestee was transported to a local hospital where he was admitted and placed on a ventilator. The decision was made by responsible parties to remove the ventilator yesterday at approximately 3:30 pm. Once the ventilator was removed, Teddy Parker expired. An inquest was held by Precinct #1 Justice of the Peace Quincy Beavers who ordered an autopsy be performed at Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science in Dallas. It will be several weeks before the result of the autopsy and toxicology will be available.
“Due to an in-custody death occurring, it is standard protocol to request an investigation by a disinterested third party law enforcement entity that has jurisdiction in issues such as this. This investigation has been turned over to the Texas Rangers who will conduct a thorough investigation into this matter. “No additional information will be available until the conclusion of the investigation.”
The statement did not mention Parker was at times apologetic or Parker’s shirt had been pulled up to his face as a spit guard.
Although Parker sometimes moved his head while jailers tried to remove his earrings, the video does not seem to show Parker being “combative.”
In the video, Parker often is cooperative.
‘Manner of death: Accident’
Dr. Stephen M. Lenfest, a medical examiner at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas performed the autopsy. The institute determines the cause and manner of death of about 4,200 bodies each year, according to its website.
An assistant professor at the UT Southwestern Medical School, Lenfest is accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners.
In the autopsy, Lenfest finds no signs of blunt force injures and only a few scrapes, scratches and bruises on Parker’s hands, left knee and right lower leg. He notes that sections of an artery coming from his heart had moderate to severe atherosclerotic stenosis (plaque buildup) but that the remainder of his coronary system was “free of significant” plaque.
The autopsy says a blood test performed at the hospital showed Parker had 1.59 mg/L (milligrams per liter) of methamphetamine in his body before death. The blood test during the autopsy showed he had 1.85 mg/L.
Lenfest noted in the autopsy that Parker had a history of “illicit drug use.” “Based on the case history and autopsy findings, it is my opinion that Teddy Parker, a 32-year-old male, died as the result of the toxic effects of methamphetamine,” concluded Lenfest.
“MANNER OF DEATH: accident.”
‘I think they wanted to be done’
The portion of the lawsuit involving the city and its two officers was resolved when the city council approved the settlement in December.
“This Agreement shall not be construed or deemed an admission of liability,” states the settlement, meaning it should not be taken as an admission of guilt or wrongdoing on behalf of the city or the two police officers.
The settlement excludes the city and police officers from other legal action from the lawsuit, including a potential finding by a jury that law officers did not follow proper procedures in the way they handled Parker.
The lawsuit says the police department and sheriff’s office “had a duty to adopt and implement rules and procedures to ensure their officers use a reasonable degree of force on people taken in custody” including “appropriate use of restraints positions, spit guards and force.”
It questions whether the peace officers who dealt with Parker were adequately trained in use of spit guards, dealing with people who spit on officers and dealing with people on drugs.
It alleges that “a reasonable officer would know that blocking Mr. Parker’s airways with his mouth and nose with latex gloves and his shirt while multiple officers put pressure on his body and lungs is clearly unreasonable and excessive.”
Palmer said the settlement with the city was fair “for the amount of liability they had in the case.”
“I’ll say, the city of Tyler defendants, they were definitely involved but if I had to rank the target defendant, it (the city and officers) would not be the target defendant,” Palmer said. “There is liability on them. They recognized it. I think they wanted to be done (with the lawsuit). … The city of Tyler is out of the case and we are not here to really comment more on what the city council has already approved.”
‘Significantly more money’
The law firm continues to pursue action against Smith County.
“There’s no ongoing (settlement) negotiation at the moment with Smith County,” Palmer said. “We have a long way to go. We have more discovery. We have expert depositions (to take). We have a lot of work to do. … At this point, we’re getting ready for trial.”
Palmer said they will seek more money from the county than it agreed to in the settlement with the city.
“We believe the value in this case (against the county) far exceeds the amount that has been tendered by the city of Tyler,” Palmer said. “We believe that this loss of life, and the manner in which it was lost, and the way it was handled post his death, that we are going to be asking a jury for significantly more money than $300,000. I’m not going to put a number on it now. We believe this is going to be a high-value case.”
“Smith County looks forward to presenting all of the evidence in this matter to a jury for deliberation and decision, and is confident that a jury will support our conclusion that neither the County, nor any individual acting on behalf of or through the County, caused the death of Teddy Wayne Parker,” said the statement released by the county.
‘He did not deserve to be treated this way’
Palmer said he’s baffled why getting Parker’s earrings out was so important.
“This was all about removing a set of earrings that would take my daughter about 13 seconds to remove,” he said. “We have the earrings. We’ve produced (acquired) the earrings. They are nothing special. I don’t know how or why these jailers could not figure it out or why it was so important to remove these pieces of jewelry.
“There are other cases we found across the country where jails have actually said, ‘Let them keep their jewelry, their piercings, in. It is not worth the pain that we cause people,’” Palmer continued. “Why these jailers in the Smith County Jail behaved this way over something so miniscule is perplexing to me. We’ve not seen the likes of this in this practice and we’ve seen a lot of cases.”
Roberts said Parker did not deserve to die the way he did. “There is no doubt Teddy had his issues, as we all do. That doesn’t mean that he was a terrible human being that deserves to be suffocated and that is simply what happened here. … Obviously he was under the influence of methamphetamines when he was taken into the jail but that is not a death sentence in this country. Simply because he was under the influence of a drug or a narcotic doesn’t mean that he needs to have his mouth and nose covered to the point where he can no longer breathe and dies.”
‘We are right and will prevail’
Palmer and Roberts said they will put experts on the stand who disagree that Parker died from the toxic effects of methamphetamine.
“To say someone died of a meth overdose when they had their mouth and nose covered and their breathing slowed until they stopped and died is akin to walking up to someone and shooting them and claiming that meth was the reason for the death and not the bullet you just fired – it’s ludicrous,” Roberts said. “And it is the only defense they have, and it is not a good one.”
Palmer said they also will counter arguments that “excited delirium” caused Parker’s death.
“We have an expert witness who is amazing and has actually written books on this idea and articles and have given speeches all over the world about excited delirium – the phenomenon that has been created by essentially defense attorneys and the police that when someone gets excited and they are on drugs or have drugs in their system and they die for some unexplainable reason … it (the cause of death) is excited delirium.
“The idea that the restraint, the lack of breathing, the impeding of his breath and blood flow, which is a crime in Texas if you do it to another person, was not a factor in his death is simply ridiculous and our expert in a matter of minutes was able to look at this autopsy and just shred it,” Palmer said.
Palmer contends the amount of meth Parker had in his body would not have caused his death.
“When you look at the autopsy and you look and do the research, the level of methamphetamine in his blood was not toxic — not to the level they are trying to ride that horse on. And our expert pretty much vesicates that argument right off the get go,” he said.
The autopsy says Parker’s methamphetamine level before death was 1.59 mg/L and the level after death was 1.85 mg/L. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration’s Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets, normal concentrations of methamphetamine in “recreational use” are between 0.01 to 2.5 mg/L. It says only concentrations above this range “will likely be associated with severe, possibly life-threatening, toxicity.”
“I mean it (the amount of meth in his body) is not even close (to a lethal level). He had been using meth long enough that if you’re going to die from an overdose, it’s going to have to be a real high level and it didn’t even come close. So, their argument doesn’t hold water. I don’t know why they’re even making it,” Palmer said.
“The autopsy is what law enforcement uses all the time to try and shut the door on a case,” he continued. “When lawyers like us get involved and we peel back the onion and we see what is really happening here, there’s no question that he did not die of a drug overdose, that the restraint and the asphyxiation caused this (death).”
Palmer said they want to present their case to a jury.
“We believe very powerfully that we are right and will prevail.”
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