Pro Bono Representation of Inmate Assaulted on Orders of County Official


In September 2015, pre-trial detainee Darrell Jacoby Mark was assaulted by over 20 inmates at the direction of Harris County detention officer Vanesha Lee in retaliation for filing a grievance against her.

At the time Mr. Mark was attacked, Lee was smuggling drugs into the Harris County jail for inmates under her supervision and had been involved in a romantic relationship with at least one of these inmates for months preceding the attack. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office terminated Lee shortly after Mr. Mark was attacked, but she fled the jurisdiction and criminal charges were never brought against her. Following the attack, Mr. Mark, proceeding pro se, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prisoner civil rights case against Harris County, Lee, and Lee’s supervising sergeant.

In October 2018, Judge Andrew S. Hanen, Southern District of Texas, appointed SKV attorneys Jacquelyn Rex, Crystal Robles, and Lee Kaplan as pro bono counsel for Mr. Mark, who was now in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. SKV investigated Mr. Mark’s allegations and asserted that his injuries were caused by Harris County’s inadequate policies concerning inmate safety and supervision of detention officers, and/or Harris County’s failure to adhere to such policies, which led to the assault.

Over the next three years, SKV spent over 1,500 hours analyzing tens of thousands of county records, successfully overcame Harris County’s motion to dismiss the case on qualified immunity grounds and deposed 11 Harris County officials and employees. In March 2021, SKV obtained a favorable settlement from Harris County and Lee’s supervising sergeant for a confidential amount.

SKV also obtained a default judgment against Vanesha Lee. On November 15, 2021, Mr. Mark testified before Judge Hanen as to the physical and emotional harm he suffered at the hands of Lee and the inmates she recruited to attack him. Jackie Rex took the laboring oar at the hearing with a concise direct examination of Mr. Mark, during which he gave a gripping explanation of the incident and his injuries.Shortly thereafter, the Court awarded compensatory and punitive damages against Lee in the amount of $125,000 after concluding that Lee “willfully, intentionally, and maliciously violated [Mr. Mark’s] constitutional rights by ordering jail inmates to physically threaten and to attack [him].”

Mr. Mark was elated with the result and pleased with SKV’s representation: “[I] extend my gratitude for everything y’all have done on my behalf through the course of the civil action. I truly appreciate everything.”

SKV was honored to represent Mr. Mark in this matter and to ensure that he received a full and fair adjudication of his claims.


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