A Harris County Jailer Died On-Duty Thursday, But Sheriff Hickman Has No Idea How [UPDATED]

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The Harris County Sheriff's Office announced that a jailer died after an altercation with an inmate early Thursday morning. And during an afternoon press conference Sheriff Ron Hickman called to take questions on how exactly this happened, he could answer virtually none of them.

Here's what Hickman did manage to say: At 4 a.m. Thursday, three Harris County jailers were transferring an inmate from recreation to his general population cell when the inmate became non-compliant and physically combative, leading one jailer to deploy his pepper spray. 

But as for why detention officer Tronoski Jones collapsed moments later in the hallway and died, Hickman said he doesn't know—Hickman wouldn't speculate, at least not until they have more information from the medical examiner.

Hickman also said he doesn't know whether the inmate actually did anything to contribute to or cause Jones's death, or if the inmate even delivered any kind of blow at all—Jones did not have any outward injuries. As for why or how the struggle between the inmate and jailers escalated, Hickman said he did not know at this time. When asked if there was video of the incident, Hickman again said he didn't know.

Among other unanswered questions: Was it unusual for an inmate to be at recreation at 4 in the morning?  “I've been here for 90 days,” Hickman answered. “What do I know?”

Jones had been a detention officer for three years and ten months. He worked the night shift, often from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and was six hours into his shift at the time he died. The sheriff's office would not identify the inmate who was involved.

Jones's death wasn't the only strange occurrence at the jail this week. 

At 9 p.m. Tuesday, spokesman Thomas Gilliland said two detention officers were yelling at each other when one of them, Carlton Bernard Freeney, pulled a knife. Gilliland says Freeney slashed the other jailer, whose identity has not been released, right above his left elbow.

Medical staff checked out the injured jailer, who didn't need to be hospitalized. Freeney, on the other hand, was detained and took a quick trip to, well, jail. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (Gilliland said officers can carry knives up to 2 inches long). 

Freeney posted bond, though, before he had to spend time on the other side of the bars in a different uniform. According to Gilliland, Freeney won't be putting his jailer uniform back on again.

Update 8/21/15 at 3:15 pm: On Friday the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences listed some preliminary findings in Jones's death on the institute's website. Jones, according to the institute, died from "atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease," and his manner of death is listed as "natural causes."  

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