Three Harris County Jail detention officers have been suspended following an altercation with an inmate, the Harris County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday.
The jailers were attempting to subdue 28-year-old inmate Jerome Bartee on September 4 at the jail's medical clinic but may have used excessive force, said Ryan Sullivan, a sheriff's department spokesman.
Sullivan told the Houston Press that footage from a new, $5 million video surveillance system provided crucial evidence to investigators. Sullivan said Sheriff Ron Hickman concluded the jailers were correct in trying to subdue Bartee, after he roughed up a jail employee, but their use of tactics such as punching "ha[s] raised questions as to whether that use for force was appropriate."
Harris County court records show Bartee was arrested on September 3 and charged with felony counts of cocaine possession and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Because of his scuffle with jail staff on Sunday, Bartee also was charged with a felony count of assaulting a public servant. His criminal history in Harris County dates back to 2006 and includes convictions for drug charges and assault.
The sheriff's office declined to identify the suspended jailers or disclose video footage of the incident, citing an ongoing investigation by the district attorney. The District Attorney's Office could choose to file criminal charges against the jailers, Sullivan said. He added that he was unsure how long the jailers have been employed with the sheriff's department, but said they each started before 2015.
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The jailers are on paid leave until the investigation concludes, per department policy.