Nearly 40 Detention Officers Disciplined in the Case of Man Trapped in Feces-Covered Cell For Weeks

Last fall Channel 13 published photos from a whistleblower showing the squalid conditions in Terry Goodwin's jail cell.
Last fall Channel 13 published photos from a whistleblower showing the squalid conditions in Terry Goodwin's jail cell.

More than six months ago, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia told reporters he was "damn mad" upon learning that a mentally ill inmate at his jail had been confined in a squalid, feces-covered cell for weeks on end. Today, heads rolled at the sheriff's office.

Garcia announced on Friday that he's fired six jail supervisors, including two jail sergeants who have already been indicted on felony charges of tampering with government records. Garcia says he's also suspended 29 employees, ranging from detention officers to sergeants and deputies, without pay from anywhere between one and ten days. One other jail commander has been relieved of duty and demoted, while Chief Deputy Fred Brown, who oversees jail operations, has agreed to resign, Garcia announced.

Ultimately, Garcia said guards isolated Terry Goodwin in a bug-infested cell with mounds of trash and feces clogging the sink, toilet and shower drain in a "poor attempt not to engage in a physical confrontation" with the inmate.

Goodwin entered the jail in March 2013 after being arrested for possessing a small amount of pot. While his marijuana charge was dismissed, it appears Goodwin stayed in jail because his arrest triggered a probation violation on a five year old burglary charge. On June 3, 2013, records show Goodwin punched a detention officer in the face and was charged with assaulting a public servant.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office, which has charged Ricky Pickens-Wilson and John Figaroa of falsifying cell-check records, says that Goodwin was kept in his cell for "several weeks." Two weeks before he was pulled out of his cell, court records show that Goodwin was declared incompetent to stand trial on his assault charge and ordered into psychiatric treatment (publicly-available records do not state a diagnosis). Twenty days after he was found in his fetid cell, Goodwin was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for a 120-day commitment. After he was declared competent to stand trial last year, Goodwin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Garcia says he's ordered changes to ensure the chain-of-command structure doesn't keep jailers from reporting problems higher up the food chain when supervisors fail to take action, as apparently happened in Goodwin's case. While some detention officers reported Goodwin's conditions to their immediate supervisors, Garcia says those guards "remained quiet when given inappropriate direction by their supervisors... in all likelihood because of the chain of command structure."

Perhaps most remarkably, Garcia and jail medical director Dr. Mike Seale acknowledged that medical staff monitored Goodwin while he was isolated in his squalid cell and even documented the deplorable conditions in which he was held. "Medical staff was documenting certain things ... but we didn't have all the right mechanisms in place for medical staff to effectively engage with detention staff," Garcia said Friday.

Seale said no one on medical staff has been fired or disciplined, saying "they followed policy and procedure, they documented it in the medical record, they described the conditions. ... They did the job they were asked to do."

The whole incident comes at a particularly inopportune time for Garcia, who's widely reported to be on the verge of announcing his run for mayor. Garcia, while acknowledging that supervisors failed to act or report it to his office, attempted to recast the incident as another example of Texas's dismal track record of funding services for the mentally ill. At any given time, one-third of the jail's 9,000 inmates are on psychotropic medications, he said. "Until we get out of being 49th in the nation on per-capita spending for the mentally ill, I believe my fixes will go a long way in preventing this from happening again, but it doesn't mean we won't be without challenges."

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