Getting stuck in the Harris County Jail because you can't afford to pay the bail amount listed on a chart can have immediate consequences that can be worse than losing a job or a scholarship. In the past, a diabetic was booked without access to insulin, leading him to vomit dozens of times until he passed out three days later. A man arrested for visiting with his children for too long during a scheduled visit was smothered to death by guards in riot gear after they accused him of creating a weapon from a smoke detector.
And last week, according to authorities, two inmates beat a man to death in a holding cell. He was in jail for less than 48 hours.
Patrick Joseph Brown, 46, was booked on a misdemeanor theft charge on April 3, accused of stealing a guitar. Like the vast majority of people who appear before judges in Harris County, he was denied a personal bond, though he had no violent criminal history, and his bail was set at $3,000. Authorities say that on April 5, shortly after 12:30 a.m., Brown was discovered unresponsive on the floor of a holding cell, allegedly after two men beat him to death with their fists and feet. Brown would be transferred to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he would die several hours later.
Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ryan Sullivan said it is unclear for now what led to the fight, but both of Brown's alleged attackers, Curtis Maxwell and Ebenezer Nah, have been charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury. Once Brown's cause of death is officially determined, Sullivan said the charges may be upgraded.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
All three men had spent less than three days in jail, each booked on either April 2 or 3. But the fatal beating happened within a much smaller time frame: several hours, when they were idling in a temporary holding cell.
Sullivan said the only reasons they would all be in the holding cell at once — a cell separate from general population — is because they were either being booked, released or had just returned from their probable cause hearings, which each attended at some point on April 4. Only one man, Ebenezer Nah, charged with felony possession of meth, posted bail on that day (his co-defendant, Curtis Maxwell, received no bond after being charged with assault of a family member). But because it generally takes six to eight hours before a person can be released on bail, Sullivan said, Nah was likely awaiting his release in this cell when he allegedly beat Patrick Brown.
Sullivan said guards check on the cells once every 15 minutes, and that there is one guard to every 48 inmates. In each cell, there are ten to 20 inmates.