It's not necessarily that Harris County Jail officials didn't know about the squalid conditions inmate Terry Goodwin was forced to live in for weeks. It's just that nobody told Sheriff Adrian Garcia about it, his office insists.
Garcia would have immediately taken corrective action, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Christina Garza, but he didn't know about the incident -- how Goodwin was trapped in a cell with mounds of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces -- until three weeks ago, right around the time someone sent an anonymous tip to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and a whistleblower shared photos of the gnarly-looking cell with KTRK. On Tuesday, the same day KTRK posted its story with photos showing Goodwin's cell, TCJS sent Garcia a letter temporarily putting the jail back in "at risk" status until his office sends the jail commission a plan to make sure something like this never happens again.
Here's what KTRK reported Tuesday:
"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."
Records show Goodwin was arrested in on March 5, 2013 on a misdemeanor marijuana charge. While the pot charge was dismissed the following month, it appears the arrest may have triggered a probation violation on a five-year-old burglary charge, keeping Goodwin in lockup. On June 5, 2013, Goodwin picked up a felony assault charge for "striking" a jail guard "with his hand."
Goodwin's mother told the station she believes her son has 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 the foul cell by jail compliance inspectors, Goodwin was declared incompetent to stand trial. On October 30, 2013, he was sent to the Rusk State Hospital for a 120 day commitment.
Goodwin was declared competent for trial in February. In March a judge sentenced him to three years in prison on the assault charge. Records show he's serving another three years on his old burglary charge.
We asked the sheriff's spokeswoman when Garcia found out about the apparent horrible conditions one of his inmates was forced to endure, allegedly for weeks, and when the office launched an investigation into how the problem occurred. Follow along for her dizzying response...
"We knew of the incident when it happened back in October 2013."
So the office started investigating the incident back in 2013?
"Well, it's hard to say, in a sense that we have a jail compliance team that the sheriff has formed."
So, the sheriff didn't know until a few weeks ago, and then he launched an investigation?
"The sheriff did not find out about this incident until several weeks ago. And that's something that, you know, something like this the sheriff should have been told. Alright, so that's the issue with (KTRK/Channel) 13, it's like, when did the sheriff know about it and why didn't he know about it? The issue itself, we found out about it. And so now we're conducting an investigation into, number one: why did that happen to begin with? And why is it that the sheriff didn't know about it?"
So, you're investigating the incident, but also investigating why the sheriff didn't know that you were already investigating the incident?
"Right. Why wasn't anything done? Why weren't people that are to be held accountable held accountable back then? I mean, we knew of the incident, somebody knew of this incident, because there were reports generated."
So, the "investigation" started in 2013. But why didn't the sheriff know about it until three weeks ago, when TCJS and KTRK started asking for information about the incident?
"Well, because the sheriff doesn't know about every single internal investigation that we conduct. But something like this is something that he should have known about."
So, the "investigation" has been going on for a year, but it's still not finished?
"We're trying to figure that out. Why has it taken this long? Why didn't anybody get the ball rolling on a resolution to the problem? It's not until the sheriff found out about it that he said, 'Well, why hasn't this been resolved?'"
So, you're investigating why the investigation hasn't been finished?
"Right. ...Why did it go stagnant?"
There's no review process so the sheriff or someone in his office can keep track of how these types of investigations are going?
"There is. And it shouldn't have failed. And we have meetings to discuss everything that's happening in the organization, good and bad. And again, I think the question is why didn't anyone tell him about a matter such as this. That's what we're trying to find out. ... It's clear that this is something that we're taking ownership of and the sheriff certainly wants some answers."
SO. Just to recap: About a year ago, the sheriff's office began investigating how one of its inmates, who appears to have suffered from mental health issues, was left in a cell to wallow in his own filth and feces for weeks on end. The sheriff just didn't know about that investigation, which is still ongoing.
So Garcia's now investigating why he didn't know about that investigation and he's investigating why his team doesn't have any answers after a year of investigating.
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
Thankfully, in a letter to the jail following a surprise inspection Monday, a TCJS inspector wrote that Goodwin's treatment appears to have been an "isolated" incident.
These types of communication lapses at HCSO, however, don't appear to be so isolated. Just weeks ago, we were left scratching our heads trying to figure out why the sheriff's office would re-hire Ruben Carrizal, a homicide investigator who got canned by the district attorney's office amid allegations that he back-dated a judge's signature on a search warrant that he'd already served on a murder case.
Back then, Garza told us the answer was simple: the sheriff's office knew "nothing" about the allegations, otherwise they wouldn't have considered re-hiring Carrizal. That was despite the DA's office telling us, in some detail, how they included sheriff's officials in their investigation into the backdated document from the beginning -- in part because Carrizal was with HCSO when he served the original warrant.
Maybe Garcia can investigate that lapse in communication, too.