ANGLETON — Prison guards were reluctant to tell medical staff about the events that led to David Witt’s death when they brought him in for treatment, a nurse practitioner testified Thursday.
Terry Speer, the nurse practitioner who works for UTMB Health at the Darrington Unit prison in Rosharon, said guards did not give him any information as to what happened when they brought Witt to the infirmary Aug. 16, 2017.
Lou Joffrion III, a former sergeant for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is accused of picking up Witt and forcing him face-first to the ground, causing a lacerated liver that led to his death. Joffrion, 26, of Humble, is standing trial on a first-degree felony aggravated assault by a public servant charge in the 239th District Court after pleading not guilty. A jury of 11 women and two men, one who will serve as an alternate, is tasked with deciding his guilt.
“The guards will normally tell us what’s going on, so we know what’s going on, so we know how to treat them,” Speer said on the stand Thursday. “You need help from other people to determine what’s going on, because the guards were not saying nothing.”
Speer based his treatment on Witt saying a cut on his chin hurt and his low blood pressure during the three hours Witt was in the infirmary, Speer said. He assumed Witt might have had a sinking episode, or fainted, so he administered fluids, he said.
His blood pressure stabilized and Speer believed he was improving, he said. Then, Witt’s blood pressure became unstable, so Speer assumed Witt had internal bleeding and told the nurses to call 911, he said.
The doctor who performed the autopsy on Witt died of cancer in November, Galveston County Chief Medical Examiner Erin Barnhart said, so she testified based on his report and photos.
Witt had multiple lacerations to the right lobe of his liver, Barnhart said, which is frequently fatal and often seen after car crashes. The cause of death was listed as blunt-force trauma, she said.
Prosecutor Cindy Bridges showed Barnhart the video of Joffrion picking Witt up and forcing him to the floor in the Darrington Unit. Bridges asked if that force could have caused the laceration, to which Barnhart responded it could have.
Defense attorney Connie Williams asked if there was any evidence of injury externally near the liver area.
There was not, but Barnhart explained the type of impact made bruising unlikely. Bruising is more likely in a concentrated impact, such as with a corner of a countertop, she said.
The liver had multiple lacerations, meaning it was “almost in pieces,” Barnhart said. Witt also had a cut to his chin, bruising in his face, and hemorrhaging around his colon and in his shoulder, Barnhart said.
Correctional officers are taught force used must be proportional to the inmate’s force shown, former warden Eddie Baker said. Baker reviewed the video and interviewed Joffrion after the “use of force incident,” he said.
“It was not proportional or necessary,” Baker said of Joffrion’s actions.
Joffrion faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The prosecution rested Thursday afternoon. The defense will either begin calling witnesses or give an opening statement at 9 a.m. today in the 239th District courtroom of Brazoria County Courthouse. Williams had not yet decided which, he said.