Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has fired 11 of his employees and suspended six others due to “serious policy violations” they had committed in connection with the death of 23-year-old inmate Jaquaree Simmons in February, which was ruled a homicide by the county’s Institute of Forensic Sciences earlier this month.
The county found that Simmons — who was jailed on the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm on February 10 — died due to blunt force trauma to his head and internal bleeding in his head.
Gonzalez’s announcement came after an internal investigation involving 73 interviews with 37 sheriff’s office employees and 20 prisoners in the county jail. He wouldn’t elaborate on which of the 11 fired employees were responsible for the assault that led to Simmons’ death, which Gonzalez said was out of respect for the ongoing criminal investigation into the matter being conducted by the Houston Police Department.
“These 11 people betrayed my trust and the trust of my community,” Gonzalez said. “Their conduct toward Mr. Simmons was reprehensible. They showed complete disregard for the safety and well being of a person they were directly responsible for protecting.”
“None of them deserve to wear the Harris County Sheriff’s Office patch ever again,” he added.
The 11 employees fired by Gonzalez are Detention Officers Garland Barrett, Patricia Brummett, Joshua Dixon, Alysheia Mallety, Israel Martinez, Eric Morales, Alfredo Rodriguez, Daniel Rodriguez and Chadwick Westmoreland, Detention Sgt. Jacob Ramirez and Deputy Dana Walker.
Detention Officers Antonio Barrera, Jeremy McFarland, Alexandra Saucier, and Ralph Tamayo were all suspended without pay, as well as Sgt. Benny Gallindez and Detention Sgt. Rene Villaloboz. Gonzalez noted that all 17 employees he fired or suspended have the right to appeal to the independent Civil Service Commission.
Of the suspended officers, Gonzalez said they would be subject to further disciplinary action and could also be fired “unless they exhibit immediate and consistent compliance to all sheriff’s office policies, rules and regulations.”
According to the sheriff’s office investigation, Simmons used his clothes to clog the toilet in his cell the morning of February 16. Gonzalez said “force was used against Simmons” which was not documented, and Simmons was returned to his cell “with no clothing,” also a violation of county policy.
Later that night, Simmons reportedly threw his meal tray at a detention officer and charged toward him. A report of that incident claimed that the officer retaliated by hitting Simmons in the face with a closed fist. Officers then asked for help taking in Simmons for a medical examination, at which point Gonzalez said the office’s investigation found that “Simmons suffered multiple blows to his head” when officers took him from his cell. Gonzalez said the use of force was not recorded in writing, and that no video exists of the incident.
Since the power was out at the jail that night due to the winter storm, medical staff could not X-ray his injuries but requested that he be taken in for one as soon as possible and prescribed him pain medication. Not only did officers neglect to take Simmons in for that X-ray once power was restored the next day, but investigators found that officers in Simmons’ section of the jail didn’t make any record of conducting mandatory prisoner inspections from the morning of February 15 and until about noon February 17. At 12:10 p.m. that day Simmons was found unresponsive in his cell when his lunch was delivered. He was pronounced dead at LBJ Hospital that afternoon.
It’s not the first time the county jail has been caught not following policy on visual checks of prisoners. IIn December 2020, a Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection found that jail officials didn’t perform visual checks consistently.
“I understand that these disciplinary actions in no way make up for what happened to Jaquaree Simmons inside our jail,” Gonzalez said, “but I owe it to him, to his mother, and to our community to do everything in my power to ensure those who had a hand in it are held accountable, and that this sort of thing never happens again.”
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.