A Harris County Sheriff's Office jail-turned-mini courtroom has had to be vacated after running water stopped working early this morning, sheriff's spokesman Deputy Tom Gilliland told the Houston Press Tuesday.
Gilliland said that something went wrong while the city was working on a main water line overnight, and the water line had to be cut off, affecting buildings near I-10 in the northeast end of downtown, including the jail facility at 1307 Baker. There, Gilliland said, normally a few hundred inmates are held in a small holding facility, but actually they had already been evacuated during Harvey because of flooding and were currently housed in other jails. Instead, after the floodwater was cleaned out, Harris County judges had been using the holding cells at 1307 — which rests right along Buffalo Bayou — as makeshift courtrooms to run the jail dockets.
Today, however, that had to be suspended.
"There's very low water pressure. It's not enough to even make the toilets works," Gilliland said. "So we can't have anybody in there. We canceled court and brought everybody back [to the other jails]."
Judges had been using the jail facility because the main courthouse at 1201 Franklin is closed because of flooding — both with Buffalo Bayou water and sewage from toilets after pipes burst. County Court-At-Law Judge Darrell Jordan said two judges per day had been volunteering to head over to the 1307 Baker jail and make sure no one was incarcerated who didn't need to be there, such as misdemeanor defendants charged with nonviolent crimes who couldn't make bond or people eligible for diversion programs. Inmates would be bused from the larger jails at 1200 Baker and 49 San Jacinto.
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The closure of 1307 Baker today is yet another snag for the court system amid a chaotic time, when criminal courtrooms have been relocated to the civil and family courthouses and judges have been required to share the benches.
The Press reached out to Houston Public Works and Engineering for more information on exactly where and how the main water line broke, and the geographical area and other main buildings that are affected. We will update this story when we hear back.
Gilliland said courts were expected to be back up and running by Wednesday.
Update, September 12, 1:18 p.m.: Public Works sent us the following statement about the water line break: "The City of Houston is on site at Congress and Main to determine best resolution on repairing the main to minimize further impact to these customers. We have been in contact with Harris County and a couple of the other businesses impacted by the leak that is causing lower pressures. They will continue to experience the lower pressures until the main is fixed. 311 has also been notified. We will keep everyone abreast of new developments."