The numbers of people dying in county jails are adding up in 2014—and the recent death of 18-year-old Victoria Gray was especially tragic and needless. She died in September in the Brazoria County Jail after that jail failed in so many ways, it will take a full investigation to find the truth and hold officers and officials accountable. So many people are dying, most of them not yet convicted, and yet their deaths are not always investigated. (Our list is only of deaths within county jails, not police custody.) Earlier this year, when Courtney Ruth Elmore died in the Brown County Jail, was staff properly trained to watch for respiratory failure? David Grimaldo, 18, a Perryton High School student died just hours after being booked into the Ochiltree County Jail. Sheriff Joe Hataway reported that the teen died of a medical condition—could a quicker response have prevented his death?
In May, a woman named Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail for ignoring her when she was in labor. Locked alone in a cell, Nicole gave birth on a mat on the floor to a premature baby who died.What’s going on in Texas? Jails in the state are endangering pregnant women and their fetuses, despite the state’s professed interest in “unborn babies.”
In July, a woman named Jessica De Samito in the Guadalupe County Jail worried she might face a similar fate. Jail officials were noncommittal about giving Jessica the methadone she needs to keep from going into sudden withdrawal – a physically draining process that can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.
The numbers of people dying in county jails are adding up in 2014—and most recently, one of them was especially tragic. Only 18, Victoria Gray died in September in the Brazoria County Jail after that jail failed in so many ways, it will take a full investigation to sort that out and hold officers and officials accountable. Some, like Victoria, die of suicide while others die of what is called “natural causes,” and their deaths are not always investigated. (More have died in police custody or other facilities; we are only listing those in county jails.) Earlier this year, the list included Courtney Ruth Elmore, was 33 years old. She died February 11, 2014, around 7:00 a.m.. in the Brown County Jail. Was the staff trained to watch for respiratory failure? David Grimaldo, 18, a Perryton High School student died just hours after being booked into the Ochiltree County Jail. The Ochiltree County Sheriff Joe Hataway read from an autopsy report saying that the teen died of a medical condtion complicated by intoxication. Could it have been prevented?
Hank died a terrible, unnecessary death in the Bowie County Jail, which is run by a private prison company with a bad reputation: Community Education Centers. I always suspected the family would have a good case if they decided to sue. Last week, I receieved a noted from Dr. Parks, Hank’s good friend, and then I saw the story in the Washington Times about the federal lawsuit.
His family members and a close friend contacted Texas Jail Project soon after his death in 2012 and gave us all the information as they agonized over his painful death. We encouraged them to write the following bio of his life (On the next page) Their bio is full of rich details and stories of a life well lived, of a man valued by his community, especially the little boys he took fishing. We hope the jail staff reads it and thinks of him every time somebody in their facility is in pain and calling out for help.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, chair of the House Committee on County Affairs, exchanged comments with Texas Jail Project’s director in Livingston last week, during a hearing on county jails and government. Director Diana Claitor described the hundreds of complaints from families about the lack of psychiatric meds; she said the Texas Commission on Jail Standards doesn’t hold the jails accountable when they fail to provide necessary meds to mentally ill people. “Texas Jail Project staff recently obtained the Commission’s Notices of Non-compliance for the past three years through 2013. Of the 169 jails found not in compliance with standards, only one was cited for failure to dispense medication,” said Claitor.
Would you help Texas Jail Project ensure the constitutional rights of prisoners to receive and read publications? A majority of people in 245 local jails are pretrial or awaiting disposition of their cases–not even convicted–and yet in some, they are not allowed to read anything except the Bible. We need volunteers to help us conduct an a survey of jail policy, by phoning the jails. More details available if you email us at email@example.com … Sheriffs and jails forbidding reading material is such a problem that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards posted a letter on their website last fall, saying, “In other words, personal preferences of jail staff should not be a basis for banning a particular publication.” (See http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/docs/TAMemoPrisonLegalNews.pdf)
A Texas jail may be a model for the newly proposed bill in California to ban the practice of dumping people out of county jails in the dark of night! Texas Jail Project feels some ownership of the idea: in 2011 we supported SB 1014 bill by bringing stories and people to the legislative committees, demonstrating cases of trauma and even death where Texans were released at rural and urban county jails. Senator Whitmire’s support and the grim accounts resulted in Harris County Jail stopping its policy of mass releases at night. This excellent article describes how California Senator Liu’s bill will try to ban their late night releases–a worthy goal in light of the tragic and needless death of Mitrice Richardson, a beautiful young woman released from the Malibu jail in the wee hours and later found dead.
In this new story picked up by the New York Times, a Henderson county lawyer complains about a judge who has the nerve to speak out about jail operations. “He has absolutely no business trying to be a doctor from the bench,” says Robert Davis. Of course, Judge Tarrance has all the business in the world doing that, since people have reported ongoing neglect and mistreatment –numerous cases! Texas Jail Project heard from a woman last week who was forced to stay in a cell totally naked and denied her right to call a lawyer or bailbondsman. And like most of the inmates, she was not yet convicted, but was being held pretrial.
So the county is outraged by a judge who took the unusual steps of ordering medical care and going public? We say it’s about time.
To BEXAR COUNTY families:
Bexar County’s sheriff is now Susan Pamerleau and she has said, “I pledge to the citizens of Bexar County to make public safety my number one priority, with a strong foundation of stewardship of taxpayer dollars; improvements in jail operations; and family violence prevention initiatives.”
Please email us at Diana@texasjailproject.org to report all experiences with the jail in the past year. Texas Jail Project also wants to know about diversion programs in Bexar County–how well are they serving the people of San Antonio?
When you are charged with a misdemeanor, you may think you will have a chance to prove your innocence, but that’s before you discover the reality—that you are now part of the assembly line justice system. This important story explains how people, innocent or not, “are pressured by judges, prosecutors, and their own lawyers into pleading guilty, often without knowledge of their rights or the nature of the charges against them. Bail makes it worse. Around 80 percent of defendants who have bail set cannot afford to pay it. Innocent defendants commonly plead guilty just to get out of jail. In this way, millions of Americans are punished without due process and learn the cynical lesson that, at least when it comes to minor offenses, law and evidence aren’t all that important.”