Roughly four years after Harris County jailers trapped a mentally ill man in his cell with his own feces clogging the toilet, shower and sink drains, and piles of garbage drawing swarms of bugs, prosecutors have dropped charges against two jailers who were accused of falsifying jail records in the case.
Former jail sergeants Ricky Pickens-Wilson and John Figaroa were charged with two counts of tampering with a government record, a felony, for claiming that they had thoroughly searched inmate Terry Goodwin's jail cell, when in reality, prosecutors said, they left him to suffer in squalor for weeks. Photos showed food trays piling up in a corner, and orange peels decorating the toilet bowl in an apparent effort to squelch the stench.
The charges were eventually reduced to Class A misdemeanors because a judge had found that the language of the indictment did not include accusations of official oppression. But on Monday, prosecutors dismissed the cases altogether, saying the statute of limitations, which is shorter on misdemeanors, had expired. Despite the fact that prosecutors were preparing to take the former jailers to trial all through July, it appears that Terry Goodwin has run out of time to see justice.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office — which recused itself from the case in January after the former jailers' defense attorney, John Denholm, joined the DA's office — referred questions to Jason Luong, who was appointed as a special prosecutor. Luong was not immediately available to answer questions about the delay in bringing the case to trial.
Update, August 2: Luong said on Wednesday that he made the decision to drop the cases based on the expired statute of limitation after extensively reviewing the cases' procedural history and case law; by the time he had inherited the case in January, in fact, he said it was already expired.
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Terry Goodwin, then 22, entered the Harris County Jail in March 2013 after being charged with small-time marijuana possession. Even though the case was dismissed, court records show his arrest triggered a violation of a 2009 probation order, stemming from a burglary, and so he remained in jail. In June he was charged with assault of a public servant for punching a guard in the face.
It's unclear how long he was trapped in the deplorable conditions, but the Harris County Sheriff's Office did not open an investigation into the case until October 2015, when a whistleblower sent pictures of Goodwin's cell to KTRK. Sources had told the news station that jailers refused to let Goodwin out of his cell because he was seen as "combative," stemming from the June incident. And so in apparent retaliation, they let him live in sewage and trash for possibly months, but at least multiple weeks.
Then-sheriff Adrian Garcia told reporters a day after the KTRK story broke that he was "damn mad" about the conditions, and he went on to fire six jail supervisors and suspend 29 other jail employees without pay, while one jail commander was demoted and another agreed to resign.
Harris County later paid Goodwin's family $400,000 to avoid a lawsuit in the case — the closest thing to justice that Terry Goodwin is apparently going to get.