Four Deaths in HPD Custody in Eight Days

In just eight days, four people have died while in custody of the Houston Police Department. Two of the four died before they even reached a jail cell, according to HPD.

On average, 17 people die in HPD custody every year, according to a tally by the Texas Attorney General's Office.

The first in-custody death of the week happened on July 18 and began in a Phillips 66 convenience store in southeast Houston. A 42-year-old man entered the store bleeding from the head and, after an officer who was inside tried to assist him, the man “charged the officer,” according to an HPD incident report. The man was detained before an ambulance came to take him to a hospital; he died en route.

The following day, 32-year-old Felix Ybarra II had been jailed for evading arrest on foot. Police say Ybarra was booked into the jail without showing any signs of medical distress. But less than 24 hours later, a fellow inmate told jail staff that Ybarra was having an “unknown medical emergency,” according to an incident report. Ybarra was taken to a hospital, where he eventually died.

In light of the national attention paid to Sandra Bland's apparent suicide in Waller County earlier this month, HPD's third in-custody death seems all the more striking. Hung Do, 38, was found hanging in his cell by his jail-issued pants last week, according to HPD. Do had apparently been left alone while his cellmates were at lunch. He died just 12 hours after he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance early on the morning of July 22. Do had passed both the physical and mental health evaluations at the jail's intake stage, HPD spokesman Kese Smith said.

And the most recent death in HPD custody happened this past Sunday evening. A 29-year-old woman was arrested for public intoxication at a northwest Houston business. Medics were called to examine her, and “it was based upon their clearance that we transported her to the jail,” HPD spokesman Kese Smith says. The woman was talkative on the way to the jail, but was found unresponsive when she arrived, the department says. Jailers revived her with CPR before sending her away in an ambulance. The woman died at the hospital.

All autopsies are pending, so we aren't yet sure exactly how each died or if drugs played a part. At least in Do's case, it would be important to know whether he was in detox, which can significantly increase risk of suicide, according to a report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But while Do did pass the mental and physical evaluations, Smith notes that in two of these cases the detainees never even made it to the intake stage—the crucial step when trained staff evaluate whether a person is medically or mentally well enough to withstand the time in lockup.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn