By Bill Spinks

The Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday approved a mediated settlement agreement with an Ellis County man who filed a civil action lawsuit against the county in 2018.

County attorney Ann Montgomery said the case was mediated several weeks ago and a potential settlement was reached, but that the court had to approve any settlement and authorize the sheriff’s office to sign it.

A dollar amount for the settlement was not disclosed.

In November 2018, Ruben Solis filed a lawsuit with the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas – Dallas Division against the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office for violating his rights under the Rehabilitation Act and the American Disabilities Act.

According to court documents, Solis suffers from Huntington’s disease, which is a degenerative disorder that affects physical and mental capabilities.

In March of that year, Solis called the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office to request a safe ride back home after he visited his daughter for lunch. Court documents state he requested the ride because of the effects his illness has had on his mental and physical capabilities, leaving him unable to operate a vehicle.

However, according to court documents, the encounter between Solis and two ECSO deputies escalated quickly, to the point where the then-67-year-old Solis was thrown to the ground and handcuffed.

Only after the booking officer at the Wayne McCollum Detention Center saw his injuries was Solis taken to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Waxahachie, where it was determined Solis’ injuries included severe bruising and lacerations to the face, trauma to the tendons and joints in his neck and hands, the documents stated.

After his injuries were treated, Solis was charged with felony assault on a public servant and was transported back to the jail, where he spent a day before posting $10,000 bond. The assault charge was dismissed a few days later.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the court voted to deny a claim of $266 in property damage to a door owned by Marcy Warren.

Warren, an Italy resident, told the court that a county road crew had shoved rocks into her yard, and a rock shattered her front door while she was trying to mow her lawn.

COVID-19 funds

A certification form for COVID-19 reimbursement under the federal CARES Act in the amount of up to more than $3.4 million was approved, but not without more discussion of the strings attached with that money.

The vote was 3-1, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry voting no. Perry voiced the same objection to accepting the money that he had when the matter was first brought up at the June 2 meeting, saying that the federal government does not always disclose entanglements.

"Although I love the idea of getting some money to deal with this crisis and allowing us to use money for other expenditures … I still am very concerned where this leads us in the long run," Perry said.

But County Judge Todd Little said he was satisfied that the funds would not come with any onerous requirements. Little said the funds will be coming from the state, which received $18 billion from the federal government to disburse to counties.

The funds will be paid to the county with 20 percent up front, or about $680,000, with the remaining 80 percent to be paid once the county has proven that it has spent money to fight the virus.

Emergency services director Samantha Pickett said Ellis County has to date spent about $227,580 on equipment and PPE, along with an estimated $500,000 on salaries. The total amount of COVID-19 expenditures is $922,539 across all governments in the county.

Little said because the county does not have a public health department, it is not required or mandated to participate in contact tracing as a governmental agency; the state already performs tracing. Little also said the certification would be done through the state, not directly to the federal government.

Other items

• The court reappointed Dr. Leigh Nordstrom as Ellis County Health Authority for another two-year term ending June 30, 2022.

• Consent agenda items included acceptance of reports and line item adjustments.

• A final payment of $17,827 for a dump truck for Road and Bridge Prince 2 was approved; and a five-year lease agreement for three Ford F150 pickups for the Sheriff’s Office criminal and special investigation units was also approved.

• The court approved replacement of video equipment and software upgrades by Swagit Productions LLC. The video equipment is a one-time cost of just under $50,000 and replaces failing equipment that has been causing outages in the live-streaming of meetings. The software will be paid for by amending a previous agreement.

• Commissioners approved payment of a freight charge of $2,435 for delivery of equipment for use by the Ellis County judicial system. County purchasing agent E.J. Harbin said freight charges are estimated when equipment is purchased, and the final amount exceeded the initial estimate.

• The county renewed its medical coverage agreement through the Texas Association of Counties at a 1-percent decrease in the premium, resulting in a savings of $69,000 to the county. The dental plan through the Texas Association of Counties was renewed with a 2.2-percent increase in the premium, resulting in a $1 rise per employee; and the vision plan was renewed at no change in cost. Human resources director Theresa Taylor said co-pays will remain the same, and an employee assistance program will become available on Oct. 1.

• The court selected nine members and nine alternates from the grand jury pool to serve on the Salary Grievance Committee if needed. Judge Little said no grievances are pending and no grievances were filed last year.

• Donation of services and work from GBRK Edgewood, LLC for storm drainage work at the county farm property from the new Buffalo Ridge subdivision was accepted. A related motion to allow a work permit at the farm in a 100-by-30-foot area that lies in a floodplain was approved.

• The court renewed its membership in the Law Enforcement Support Office program, which supplies surplus military equipment.

• Perry presented a resolution urging the Texas legislature to make reforms in property tax appraisals. The motion was tabled after Little and other commissioners said they hadn’t seen the proposed resolution until the day of the meeting.