Chron Kills Inmate. Twice.
Correction: Terry Goodwin didn't die in lockup...though, given HSCO's history, he might have had guards stormed his cell.
For those of you who read the Houston Chronicle in print, you likely awoke to this headline across the front page of the city/state section this morning: "Garcia Urged to step down over death of inmate: Quanell X says sheriff hasn't faced discipline since mentally ill man died."
The article recounts how Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia brought the hammer down last week, disciplining nearly 40 jailers upon concluding the department's internal investigation into why inmate Terry Goodwin was locked in a trash- and shit-covered cell for weeks back in 2013. Not one to let a controversy slide without getting some air time, community
provocateur activist Quanell X held a short news conference outside the Harris County Jail Sunday. Flanked by Goodwin's parents, Quanell demanded that Garcia, who's widely expected to announce his run for mayor of Houston any day now, resign as sheriff over the incident.
A couple of things. Goodwin isn't dead; he's currently being held in TDCJ's Hutchins Unit after being convicted of punching a Harris County jailer while in lockup -- the incident apparently led to the squalid conditions in which Goodwin was held, with Garcia telling reporters last week that Goodwin was isolated in his cell due to a "poor attempt not to engage in a physical confrontation" with the inmate.
And Goodwin's treatment -- which everyone, including Garcia himself, admits was deplorable -- is hardly the most troubling thing to have happened to an inmate under the sheriff's watch.
In February 2014, Kenneth Christopher Lucas was brought to the Harris County jail after Texas City officials issued a warrant for his arrest in a child custody dispute. While in lockup, officials say, Lucas broke his smoke detector and managed to sharpen a small piece of metal that he refused to turn over to guards. With that, guards put on riot gear and stormed his cell.
In a half-hour video the sheriff's department released in February after a grand jury cleared sheriff's officials of any wrongdoing, you can see guards pounce on top of Lucas inside his cell as he screams things like, "Bro, I'm going to pass out," and "Get off me; I'm not moving." The video shows Lucas being dragged from his cell and placed on a gurney before being wheeled to a jail clinic where he was given a sedative. A guard in riot gear literally sits on Lucas's back as he twitches and mumbles on the gurney.
A medical examiner later wrote that Lucas's death was caused by "sudden cardiac death due to hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease during physical restraint." Garcia later said an internal investigation determined that his officers' actions were justified and that they acted according to policy (he did, however, say that he'd make sure medical staff was nearby during use-of-force incidents in the future).
There are still plenty of inmates dying at the Harris County jail. According to the most recent numbers we got from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, some 31 inmates died at the facility between January 2014 and the end of March 2015. Six of those inmates committed suicide in lockup by hanging themselves with sheets or shoelaces, while two deaths, including Lucas's, were counted as homicides during that time.
If you believe Garcia, Goodwin was kept in his cell in a misguided attempt to avoid a use-of-force incident because Goodwin had already proven to be violent with jail staff; Goodwin was denied parole last year because, among other things, "the record indicates that the inmate's release would endanger the public," according to his parole review information posted to TDCJ's website.
In light of Goodwin's case, six jail staffers have been fired, 29 have been placed on leave without pay, one top jail official has been demoted while another has resigned. Two jail supervisors now face criminal charges that could put them behind bars for a decade.
And while the feds are still probing Lucas's death, it appears nobody will be disciplined or charged in connection with his homicide.
In Goodwin's case, maybe staying in a shit-covered cell for several weeks was better than the alternative -- the risk of becoming Harris County Jail Homicide No. 3.