James Ragland, 68, was set to go to trial next month on charges that he beat Lowell Dahlem, 60, to death back in September at a house on Peyton Street. But the case against Ragland has been dismissed as he died two weeks ago at Texoma Medical Center while in custody of the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office.
GCSO Capt. Brian Ford, who is in charge of the Grayson County Jail, said Ragland was sent to the hospital three times while in custody of the sheriff’s office. The last time, on May 24, resulted in a 45-day stay that ended when Ragland died on July 9. Ford said the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office had someone at the hospital with Ragland around the clock during that entire stay. Doing so, Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt said, meant they had to pay out a lot of overtime to jail staff who worked during their time off.
Citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Ford said he couldn’t discuss the medical issues that plagued Ragland the entire time he was in jail. However, Ford did say Ragland’s death was attributable to a “progressive disease.”
Ford said both the Texas Rangers and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards are investigating the death because it occurred while Ragland was in custody. An autopsy was performed on Ragland, Ford said, but the results are still pending. The last time an inmate died while in custody, Ford said, was 2013.
The Herald Democrat learned about Ragland’s death while checking on a hearing date that had been set in the murder case. The hearing was canceled, as was the murder trial and the charge was marked as dismissed. Ragland’s attorney Tim Haney said those actions had been taken because his client had died.
Haney also cited HIPPA laws when declining to say what caused his client’s death. Haney said it is customary in cases where the defendant dies for the state to dismiss the case.
Watt said his office had not released any sort of statement about Ragland’s death because there are still a couple of investigations ongoing that are not being conducted by his people. Those investigations were both triggered by the fact that a person died in custody and not by the nature of the death. Watt said he is sure the autopsy results will show that Ragland died from essentially natural causes.
“I don’t think he lived a life of taking very good care of himself,” Watt said.
The incident that led to Ragland’s incarceration happened at a home in the 1700 block of Peyton Street in Sherman. Police responded to the home on Peyton Street to investigate reports of a fight between two men in the front yard. When they got there, officers arrested Ragland and took Dahlem to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Days later, Sherman Police said the two men were engaged in a property dispute before it escalated into a physical fight.
“I felt we had a better than average chance of acquittal,” Haney said of Ragland’s trial on the murder charge, which had been scheduled for August.
Interim Grayson County District Brett Smith said his office was confident in their case against Ragland and were ready for trial.