Friday, April 24, 2015

A really bad week for Sheriff Garcia

Your basic hope-nobody's-looking Friday afternoon dump (pun unintended).

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Friday fired six jailers and suspended 29 other employees after an investigation into deplorable conditions in one cell where a mentally ill inmate was left unattended for weeks.

The action on Friday comes three weeks after two detention officer sergeants were indicted in the case involving the care of Terry Goodwin, who was surrounded by bug-infested food containers and a feces-clogged toilet.

The suspensions range from one day to 10. One chief deputy is also expected to resign and another top staffer will be demoted.


Civilian employees Ricky D. Pickens-Wilson and John Figaroa are alleged to have signed off on a cell check form, lying about the decrepit condition of Goodwin's cell. They could face two to 10 years in jail and fines up to $10,000.

Yet this charge focuses on the cover-up, not the crime itself. Where's the indictment for neglect or lawsuit for cruel and unusual punishment? No one said that jail should be the Four Seasons, but the pictures and descriptions of Goodwin's cell paint a portrait of a Sheriff's Department lacking in oversight.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has said that he hopes this incident doesn't tarnish the good work of honest detention employees. But this isn't merely an issue of bad actors or rogue agents. Our jail system suffers from regular problems of poor inmate treatment.

One Harris County inmate died in 2014 after being forcibly removed from his cell, warning that he was going to pass out. Eight sheriff employees avoided any indictment for criminal wrongdoing.

In 2012, a 72-year-old mentally ill inmate died after a detention officer punched him in the face and left him bleeding in his cell. A deputy and two detention officers were fired as a result. Garcia even fired two deputies in 2010 who were receiving sexual favors from female inmates in exchange for cigarettes and soft drinks.

Hmm. Were those smokes and Cokes purchased in the jail's commissary for inmates, thereby paying for the consultant who's saving so many of our tax dollars?   Some might call that a 'win-win'.  (Not me, but somebody.)

Members of the Sheriff's Office command staff have done a fine job avoiding responsibility for Goodwin's treatment. Even when the facts came to public knowledge more than a year after the incident, Garcia could only seem to respond with a press conference, sputtering about how "damn mad" he was. Yet the sheriff still has failed to explain how we have a system where someone is locked in a rotting cell for months and nobody in charge notices.

Two men working in the Harris County Jail will face charges, as they should.

But law enforcement leaders need to get out of their default mode that says this is only a few rogue employees. There is a stench in the air and we might as well be covering it up with orange rinds and toilet paper.

I don't see how Garcia can run for mayor at this point and reasonably expect to be elected.

Update: More from the Houston Press.

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