County Will Pay $400k to Inmate Trapped for Weeks in Feces-Covered Jail Cell

Months before Adrian Garcia resigned as Harris County Sheriff and officially entered the crowded Houston mayoral race, photos surfaced showing Terry Goodwin trapped inside a bug-infested cell at the Harris County jail. There were mounds of trash and feces clogging the toilet, sink and shower drain. 

We later learned jailers had confined Goodwin to those foul conditions for “several weeks,” something Garcia knew nothing about until a whistleblower tipped off KTRK and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Garcia fumed, repeatedly telling reporters he was “damn mad” about what had happened on his watch. Ultimately, the Harris County District Attorney's Office filed charges of falsifying government records, a felony, against the second- and third-shift supervisors on Goodwin's unit (curiously enough, the first-shift sergeant on the unit was never charged), and heads rolled at the sheriff's office. Shortly before retiring, Garcia fired six jail supervisors (including the two already under criminal indictment), suspended 29 jail employees without pay and demoted one jail commander. The chief deputy overseeing jail operations resigned. 

It's unclear how that kind of baggage might affect Garcia's run for mayor. But we do know the impact the Goodwin affair will have on Harris County taxpayers: $400,000. 

After briefly meeting in executive session Tuesday morning, Harris County commissioners voted unanimously to settle “claims against the county made by Terry Goodwin concerning conditions in the Harris County jail” for $400,000. It's unclear exactly what type of legal threat presaged the near half-million-dollar settlement – it doesn't appear Goodwin had yet filed any legal action in either state or federal district court.  The Huff Law Firm represented Goodwin. 

Goodwin had entered the Harris County jail in March 2013 after being arrested on a misdemeanor pot possession charge. While that marijuana charge was dismissed, Goodwin stayed in lockup because his arrest triggered a probation violation on a five-year-old burglary charge. In June of that year, records show, Goodwin punched a detention officer in the face and he was charged with assault. A judge eventually declared him incompetent to stand trial (the nature of Goodwin's mental illness is still unclear) and, after being trapped in a feces-covered cell for many weeks, Goodwin was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for treatment. Goodwin was declared competent last year, pleaded guilty to assaulting a jailer and was sentenced to three years in state prison, where he remains.

Garcia has said that jailers isolated Goodwin in a misguided attempt to avoid a use-of-force incident with an inmate who had already proven to be violent with jail staff. The jail's medical director, Dr. Mike Seale, has acknowledged that medical staff monitored Goodwin while he was isolated for weeks in a cell with piles of garbage and feces and that medical staff even documented those conditions. Yet, remarkably, nobody on medical staff was fired or even disciplined in the matter. 

Harris County's handling of Goodwin's ordeal is a marked departure from another alarming incident at the lockup last year. In February 2014, Kenneth Christopher Lucas was arrested and brought to the jail after Texas City officials issued a warrant for his arrest in a child custody dispute. Guards stormed Lucas's cell in riot gear and piled on top of him after he refused to turn over a small piece of metal he'd broken off a smoke detector.

After a grand jury cleared sheriff's officials of any wrongdoing in Lucas's death, Harris County officials released a video showing guards piling on top of Lucas as he screams things like, “Bro, I'm going to pass out.” A medical examiner’s report later wrote that Lucas suffered “sudden cardiac death due to hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease during physical restraint”; the death was ruled a homicide. 
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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas