Former Llano County jailers get time behind bars for 2011 inmate’s death

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

BURNET — Two former Llano County jailers now face time behind bars after pleading no contest to misdemeanor deadly conduct charges in the August 2011 death of an inmate.

Donny Stewart and Scottie Bryan Scoggins entered the no-contest pleas in District Judge Dan Mills court May 2 while Shawn Appell’s mother watched. The two faced second-degree felony charges of injury to child/elderly/disabled with serious bodily intent, but the state agreed to Class A misdemeanor charges.

On Aug. 6, 2011, jail officials found Appell’s body in a cell about 5:35 p.m. He had been in custody since April 22, 2011, after being arrested by the Llano Police Department on a criminal mischief charge, officials said at the time. An autopsy by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office determined Appell, 45, died after continually banging his head against a wall.

Under Texas law, if a person enters a no-contest plea, the court can proceed as if the individual was found guilty.

Stewart agreed to one year in county jail with the sentenced probated for two years. Scoggins accepted a one-year jail sentence as well with it suspended for two years.

Both men will do jail time.

Stewart will serve 26 consecutive days in jail and do 200 hours of community service. The terms call for Stewart to serve 100 of those hours in a facility that deals with the mentally ill.

Scoggins agreed to 60 days in the county jail with 60 hours of community service. Like Stewart, half of his service must be performed in a facility that handles mentally ill patients.

Both men also relinquished their state jailers certificates.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office handled the case for the state.

According to a custodial death report filed with the Attorney General’s Office after his death, Appell had been banging his head against the wall.

The summary states at 9:30 p.m. Aug. 5, 2011, jail officials transported Appell to Scott & White Hospital-Llano after correction officers “discovered that while inmate Appell was being housed in separation cell 190 he was banging his head against the wall in the shower area and bleeding from his head.”

According to the report, Appell told hospital officials God had beaten him because of demons in his head. A state mental health official arrived at the emergency room and tried to find a bed in a mental facility for the man, according to the report.

But one couldn’t be found at that time, so Appell was transported back to the jail at 2:50 a.m. Aug. 6, the report stated.

He was placed in a padded cell under a five-minute watch, but he continued to strike his head against the window, according to the document. Llano County jail officials continued to work with mental health officials to find Appell a spot in a state facility, the report states.

About 3 p.m. Aug. 6, officials noted Appell was on the floor of the cell sleeping, according to the document. But upon a check of the cell at 4:30 p.m., officials found him standing up facing the wall, the report says.

The document reports that at 5 p.m. Appell was lying on the floor and the five-minute watches continued. At 5:30 p.m., “inmate Appell appeared not to be breathing. EMS was called … Subject was deceased and investigation was turned over to (a) Texas Ranger,” according to the report.

Appell had once been accused of stalking former District Attorney Sam Oatman. Due to that connection, the District Attorney’s Office turned over the investigation into Appell’s death to state prosecutors.

The 2008 stalking charges were dismissed based on a competency evaluation for Appell. A report completed by psychologist Matthew Ferrara, who examined Appell, stated the defendant was not capable of standing trial on the stalking charges because he had a “persuasive delusion.”

A federal lawsuit filed by Appell’s mother against the two former jailers and Llano County officials claims, “Stewart and Scoggins were on duty during the period Shawn was slowly killing himself, but deliberately took no action to help him even though they could hear him banging his head against the wall.”

Following Stewart’s sentencing, Appell’s mother, Shirley Appell, addressed the two men and the court.

“This isn’t a good day for any of us,” she said. “I would give anything in the world if we didn’t have to be here today. Shawn is more than just ‘that crazy person.’ He had a good heart. I depended on him.”

After their hearings, both men were taken into custody.

If they had been convicted of the second-degree charges, the two men faced up to 20 years in prison.

daniel@thepicayune.com