An inmate beaten by several Harris County jailers has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the jailers and the county, alleging his beating was the result of a culture of excessive force at the jail.
Jerome Bartee was booked into the Harris County Jail September 3 after being pulled over for failure to use a traffic signal, a traffic stop during which Harris County Precinct 4 deputies found a gun registered to Bartee's wife (Bartee has a felony record) and what Bartee's attorney called a "trace amount" of cocaine in the car. Bartee's attorney, Don Kidd, says the search was " highly questionable" to begin with.
Then, one day after he was booked, Bartee had a severe toothache and asked to be taken to the medical clinic; a jailer named Andrew Rowell escorted him. Kidd writes in the lawsuit that Rowell shoved Bartee into a door on the way there, causing Bartee to start yelling at Rowell. Apparently to subdue him, Rowell and several other jailers grabbed Bartee and threw him into nearby chairs and a podium. They punched Bartee in the face repeatedly and kicked him while on top of him, according to the suit.
Bartee sustained a broken nose, an orbital blowout fracture (an eye socket that was apparently punched so many times the injury required facial reconstructive surgery in which doctors had to put a metal plate in his face) and facial nerve damage. Kidd said Bartee still has blurry vision.
"You've got over a dozen jailers and sheriff's deputies involved in the beating of a single person. The video, as I understand it, shows not only an initial altercation involving jailers and deputies, but others who joined into the beating," Kidd said. "There are people who are standing by watching and no one is trying to stop it. No one is trying to de-escalate it. No one is doing anything other than encouraging and condoning the violence."
Unfortunately for those jailers, the beating was caught on video by the jail's new $5 million surveillance system, which Sheriff Ron Hickman said is intended to deter jailers from conduct like this. Hickman reviewed the footage, then suspended with pay three of the jailers involved. He also asked the Harris County District Attorney's Office to charge Bartee with assault of a public servant. That charge was dropped four days later for insufficient evidence. The Harris County District Attorney's Office is still investigating those involved in Bartee's beating to consider them for criminal charges.
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Hickman held a press conference September 7 about the incident and the internal affairs investigation he launched. He admitted to reporters that the use of force by jailers was excessive and they should have handled the incident differently. He also mentioned that a "culture" exists at the jail in which jailers "go too quickly to physical" confrontation.
Kidd used it against Hickman in the lawsuit.
Bartee is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from the county. In addition, Kidd added, an apology would be nice.
"Not a single person from Harris County has contacted Mr. Bartee to say they are sorry for what has happened, or to apologize in any way for the excessive use of force they inflicted on him."