became increasingly sick behind bars and was mostly cared for by inmates, according to a Sheriff's Department investigation.One of the officers who walked past him on the floor, reported Kevin Krause of the Dallas News, told investigators, "We decided not to wake him, as lying on the floor must have felt good to him, as the concrete was cool." But the problem appears to be a failure in healthcare delivery, not one bad decision by two jail guards: "A report from [federal] monitors' April visit said staff in the infirmary was 'not responding to patients in a manner consistent with an inpatient setting.'"
The inmates said they called officers for help as Morris' condition worsened but that no one came. Minutes before Morris was found not breathing, two jail guards walked by and saw him lying on the concrete floor but took no action, sheriff's reports show.
The man's family has filed a wrongful death suit.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle has a remarkable story by Peggy O'Hare detailing the final hours of a parolee arrested for burglary who police say died of cardiac arrest, but who appeared to have received a beating while in police custody. Mental health workers had seen the man earlier in custody with no apparent injuries, but after his "cardiac arrest" when family members saw him in the hospital, he was:
unresponsive in a hospital bed, wearing a neck brace and hooked up to a breathing machine. The side of his head was swollen, his chin displayed a bad gash and severe, gaping lacerations surrounded his wrists where the handcuffs had been, said his sister, Tamara Cathey, 35, of Houston. He had bruises on his legs where restraints had been applied after his arrest, she said.Police reports by the arresting officers do not explain the injuries. "The family's lawyer, John T. Floyd, is not ready to say if foul play was involved in the parolee's death. But he believes the case warrants close examination."
She said her brother had a strange raspberry-colored mark on his chest, which his family suspects might have been caused by a Taser.
Police told Cathey's family he suffered cardiac arrest as they tried to book him into the Harris County Jail, but Cathey's visible injuries left his family wondering why his heart stopped. He never woke up. Two days later — exactly one month to the day after his release from prison - Cathey's family decided to disconnect his life support.
Finally, a jail death in Nueces County appears to have resulted from untreated meningitis; the deceased inmate had been declared incompetent to stand trial and was in jail awaiting competency restoration. The inmate had refused medical treatment, reports KIII-TV, but a commenter posed an excellent question with many implications for local jails: "How can someone who is deemed mentally incompetent be allowed to refuse treatment?!" If an inmate is declared incompetent to plead "guilty," should they really be considered competent to dictate their medical care while in custody? This is an issue that will continue to vex Texas jails as long as there are waiting lists for competency restoration services.
The death in Corpus Christi may raise additional questions about conditions and treatment of prisoners at the Nueces County Jail. Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune had reported last year that:
According to [Texas Commission on Jail Standards] records, the jail has failed about 40 percent of its inspections over the last five years. Since September 2009, there have been five deaths at the jail — the same number of deaths that occurred in the same period of time at the Dallas County Jail, which houses eight times more people. The commission issued six noncompliance notices to [Sheriff] Kaelin from September 2009 to April 2010. The most recent failure notice cited three violations, including jailers failing to notify the commission of an inmate death within 24 hours and jail officials not completing mental health and suicide screening forms.These stories have additional implications for the state budget being debated in Austin. The Commission on Jail Standards already has little ability to evaluate jail health matters, but instead of beefing up its capacity, the agency faces significant cuts. Meanwhile, the proposed House and Senate budgets would both cut inpatient mental hospital funding at a time when jails face waiting lists to get competency restoration for defendants like the fellow in Nueces County.
Jails are the single biggest expense of county government, and arguably their biggest source of liability. Given these incidents (and others like them), surely it'd be unwise at this juncture for the state to scale back county jail oversight or reduce the number of "forensic" state hospital beds available for competency restoration. When it comes to deaths in custody, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
UPDATE/RELATED: This morning I noticed legislation by Rep. Jose Menendez, HB 748, which among other things would require mandatory dismissal of cases where misdemeanor defendants wait in jail longer for competency restoration than the law would allow them to be sentenced if they'd been convicted. Good bill.