Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia repeatedly told reporters Thursday that he's "damn mad" about the deplorable conditions one mentally ill inmate was forced to endure at the county jail last year.
"I remain damn angry and I am outraged by the recent accounts of failure in the Harris County Jail," Garcia said. The sheriff, who runs the nation's third-largest jail, says he's called in the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Harris County DA's office to review his ongoing investigation into why inmate Terry Goodwin was locked in a cell with mounds of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces.
Last month a whistleblower contacted local ABC affiliate KTRK about the incident and provided photos showing horrible conditions Goodwin faced at the jail. Officials with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards say they got an anonymous tip on September 8, and asked Garcia's office for more information about the incident the following day. From KTRK's report:
"When inspectors with a jail compliance team entered the cell of inmate Terry Goodwin on October 10, 2013, he was wearing a filthy, shredded jail uniform in the fetid cell, sources said. Shards of his orange uniform were hanging from the ceiling light.
His sink, toilet and shower drain were clogged, not just with feces, but with toilet paper in an apparent attempt by Goodwin to cover his own waste and with orange rinds, perhaps in futile effort to mask the smell, according to whistleblowers.
The cell may have not been opened for as long as two months, sources said. They said a sign attached to the outside of the cell door instructed guards not to open it. Food in Styrofoam containers was pushed in by guards through a slit in the door and the refuse was never collected, sources said."
Garcia couldn't say how long Goodwin was held in those conditions, or the extent of his isolation while in lockup. "I do know that just one day of these conditions is very wrong. ... An inmate was housed in deplorable conditions during a period of time here." Garcia says he has personally apologized to Goodwin's mother for her son's treatment.
TCJS, which conducted a surprise inspection Monday, has temporarily put the Harris County jail in "at risk" status until the sheriff sends the commission a report outlining how his office has fixed the problem. In a letter to the sheriff, a TCJS inspector said Goodwin's treatment appears to have been an "isolated" incident.
In March 2013, Goodwin was arrested and jailed on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, which was dismissed the following month. It's not entirely clear why Goodwin remained in jail after that. From our review of court records, it appears his arrest may have triggered a probation violation on a five-year-old burglary charge, for which he'd received deferred adjudication. Goodwin was accused of "striking" a guard "with his hand" in June 2013 and was charged with assaulting a public servant, a felony.
Goodwin's mother told KTRK this week he likely suffered from mental health problems, which may have been exacerbated by jail time. Court records show that on September 27, 2013, weeks before he was discovered in his foul cell by jail compliance inspectors, Goodwin was declared incompetent to stand trial and sent to Rusk State Hospital for 120 days. He was handed a three year prison sentence after he returned in February.
While Garcia's office insists a jail compliance team knew about the incident back in October 2013, it's unclear whether they took any action. Garcia says part of his investigation is to determine why he didn't know about the incident until about three weeks ago, when Channel 13 and the jail commission started sniffing around.
"I don't understand how his care fell through so many hands," Garcia said. "I need to understand." Garcia told reporters he's fired 249 employees since he assumed office in 2009. "When this investigation is complete, that number is probably going to be higher," he said.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.