Saturday, January 23, 2016

'See no evil, hear no evil' at Harris County jail

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman nearly halved the number of employees focused on compliance with jail standards despite critical, well-documented problems with jail safety issues. Reported the Houston Chronicle (Jan. 12):
The sheriff downsized from 15 to eight the staff that conducts in-house reviews of the jail's compliance with state regulations for living standards. Hickman also disbanded the unit that proactively examines internal affairs matters in the department, opting instead for what he called a "reactive" team.
I guess it's easy to pretend problems don't exist if you fire the staff assigned to look for them. "See no evil, hear no evil" should be the department's new motto.

MORE: The Houston Chronicle, while not mentioning this post, followed up Jan. 24 with a full-blown article elaborating on this change and quoting critics decrying it. They reported that Sheriff Hickman:
reduced the jail's Compliance & Inspections Unit from 15 to eight members, transferring inspectors to other assignments. Inspectors in that unit were the first to discover the neglect of jailed mentally ill inmate Terry Goodwin in 2013. The inmate spent weeks without leaving an isolation cell littered with empty food containers, human waste and insects. His family negotiated a $400,000 settlement with the county.
Without these inspectors, would the Goodwin case ever have been discovered?

We also get a little more backstory on the policy Hickman is changing:
Former Sheriff Garcia abandoned the process of having jail supervisors screen inmate complaints in 2014.

Department statistics show that between 2009 and 2013, when jail supervisors screened grievances of jail abuse before deciding which to refer to internal affairs investigators, only about 88 cases were sent up for review. But in 2014, when Garcia implemented a policy that required an internal affairs division review of all inmate grievances, the number of referrals rose to 236. The number of complaints sustained by internal affairs also increased slightly. The Chronicle's review of jailhouse disciplinary actions showed that investigations of allegations of jailer misconduct took an average of eight months to complete.

Gonzales said the changes are part of Hickman's department-wide effort to upgrade procedures and improve technology.

He said the changes will include an $877,000 installation of upgraded surveillance cameras in the 1200 Baker Street jail, which currently cannot archive any video footage. Video footage, which is available in another jail building, has been key in several misconduct reviews, records show. Those upgrades, records show, began under Garcia.

The department also is testing a pilot system of electronic monitors to confirm jailers actually visited cells for state-required checks of inmates, and biometric technologies are also being explored. Falsified cell checks have been detected in department reviews of inmate neglect and of misconduct linked to inmate suicides.
With all the problems at the jail, this should be a general election campaign issue for the Democratic nominee. It's exactly the opposite of what a responsible manager should be doing given the jail's recent history.


Anonymous said...

Or perhaps "deliberate indifference" as the motto. Has he forgotten that the Justice Department hasn't formally closed its investigation?

Anonymous said...

Deliberate indifference is exactly what it is, good God! What is that idiot thinking?

Anonymous said...

The last sheriff, a Democrat, wasted more personnel in "administrative staff" positions who did nothing. Those 15 apparently couldn't find out that an inmate was living in squalor in their jail for quite some time.
Maybe the new Sheriff is kicking many of those administrative deputies out of their cushy offices and putting them to work running the jail so that these problems won't exist in the first place.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:56, who cares about Democrat or Republican? Seven more slots assigned to "running the jail" won't make a sliver of a difference. Cutting your oversight team in half definitely will, just in the wrong direction.

It appears the Sheriff is unhappy that the Chronicle was able to uncover problems and so moved to ensure that they'd never be documented for reporters to discover in the first place. 9:15 is absolutely right that DOJ may/should have something to say about that.

Anonymous said...

Hickman will come up with all sorts of excuses and continue to blame Garcia for all the faults of the department while continually taking credit for any successful programs initiated under his predecessor be renaming such programs. The closer one looks at what he has done since taking over, the worse he looks but he will likely get re-elected because he caters to the political elite that selected him over better qualified candidates. Who are voters going to pick instead, the former city councilman that stashed homicide files in his garage while some goofus fall guy took the blame? Or some department lifer that will make things better for the employees who have continually snubbed their duties?

Anonymous said...

Harris county shows they have no problem murdering offenders they allowed a 24 year old white deputy to beat a 72 year old mentally ill inmate to death in a attorney booth where there were no cameras nor did the offender have a attorney visit while two other deputies watched and did nothing the death was ruled a homocide the autopsy revealed broken ribs broken nose and his teeth in his stomach no charges were brought against these deputies and after the assault they closed the door leaving him in a pool of blood to die these deputies Christopher Pool Joseph Jameson and Christopher Taylor were never charged and the district attorney show you can kill in the Harris county jail and walk away when will it stop

Anonymous said...

Gaudamn right - Listen to Grits and forget about the frigging gangs already. Allow me to assist in Focusing in on the problem(s).

When the citizens of any county (pick one, there's 254 of 'em) allow & condone their taxes to be utilized in endeavors to basically bribe family members of the dead, damn-near dead & hand-picked individuals falsely arrested / falsely convicted to go away, the 'citizens' should be the target of any & all related articles created by news agencies and hopefully any subsequent blog posts attempting to shed light on the issue. Anyone saying that they are simply too busy with work & family life matters to take time to protest the in-your-face, blatant misuse of funds via: phone calls, emails or in person, are the ones to thank. BUT, the very day they receive a notice that their $45,000 house has been re-appraised at $125,000., they loose their damn minds and go down in person to 'Protest'. Get wrote up for high weeds or trash and not have either, it's off to the races to set the record straight, in person. Hear or read the words - settlement or payout and you get squat from the masses and that's what they expect, since it's what folks have allowed & condoned.

*Solution - if you want to run & win a political seat representing the citizens of a city or county, you could do so with 1 (Just One) advertisement announcing that you will not allow taxpayers funds to be used in secret settlements or bribery payoffs. You will open up the books and allow any taxpayer to request and receive free copies of settlements paid out over the last 5, 10, 15 & 20 years, showing exactly where taxes were spent in efforts to make preventable issues go away. With notices going out on a quarterly basis, the taxpayers would scroll down and see exactly how much went to "Settlements' & 'Payoffs'. At some point, folks would lose their friggin minds. When they are not allowed to continue bribing, the cases will go to jury trials, where those shown to be responsible for their actions, can be held accountable 'prior' to being allowed to retire, resign or be terminated. If they are city / county employees the bill goes to the county employees collective Insurance Co. If they are in Unions the bill goes to the Union. The Unions & City / County Collectives Insurance Co. will eventually get tired of paying Jury Awards and demand tamper-proof cameras to cover every square inch, On-Going Mandatory Training & Testing, and force them to initiate getting rid of bad apples vs. allowing them rot. Until then, it's a free-for-all and a blame game with no end in sight, despite what's on someone's forehead.

The Chron's history & archives clearly indicates that it has been up to its neck in folks on the payroll for decades that, knowingly & willingly support the actions of rogue law enforcement, city & county leaders. This can be seen in their attempts to misdirect readers attention away from those solely responsible for the conditions of jails and the county at large. They only uncover what the current editors tell them to uncover. When a cover up is forced to be uncovered in efforts to scoop, they don't give credit to those like Grits or GFB Writers & they don't call for the DOJ to Investigate, therefore, nothing happens to those in uniforms caught red-handed with shovels and plastic bags. (When Ruiz was in place, the goon squads in uniform were released and ran up every single floor committing crimes and got away with it due to the sheriff allowing it because the voters that funded his campaign whispered in his ear to be tuff on crime. The DOJ never got the hundreds of complaints in a timely manner due to in house cover ups.)

From Dallas said...

HOUSTON — Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman has cut the number of internal jail inspectors in half and disbanded a "proactive" team of internal affairs investigators....

Critics fear Hickman's move reverses reforms taken by former Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who beefed up the same division in 2009 to address a backlog of complaints against personnel, and reduced the role of jail supervisors in screening complaints of inmate abuse.

Under Garcia, the IAD unit from 2009-2014 unearthed myriad problems at the Harris County Jail, including long-term neglect of a mentally ill inmate left for months in a filthy cell, guards who'd eaten pizza instead of watching over a suicidal inmate, and a guard who punched an elderly inmate who fell and hit his head and then left him lying in a pool of blood.

Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project in Austin, said she worries those types of probes just won't happen any more.

"It sounds like the in-depth, complex kind of investigations of police misconduct won't get done, and that's extremely bad for all us," said Claitor. "That's the only way of digging deep.''

Joanne Musick, a former state prosecutor and president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said disbanding the IAD proactive unit could discourage people from filing complaints.

"Even back when I was a prosecutor, we relied on the proactive IAD divisions from the Sheriff's Office and HPD to help find and prosecute this police misconduct," Musick said. "If you're just simply working on a reactive basis, someone has to report the misconduct first, and when you're dealing with police officers, a lot of time the public is reluctant to come forward, especially if it's criminal conduct. They fear if an officer is involved in criminal conduct, they feel the officer might retaliate for them reporting."

'Need That Oversight'
Currently, Harris County has 32 people assigned to the combined office of Inspector General and Internal Affairs Division, sheriff officials said. Hickman is maintaining the same number of staff in that combined office. But he has reduced the jail's Compliance & Inspections Unit from 15 to eight members, transferring inspectors to other assignments. Inspectors in that unit were the first to discover the neglect of jailed mentally ill inmate Terry Goodwin in 2013. The inmate spent weeks without leaving an isolation cell littered with empty food containers, human waste and insects. His family negotiated a $400,000 settlement with the county.

The Sheriff's disciplinary files, part of employee personnel records, contain details of many misconduct cases documented by IAD involving jailers who abused and neglected inmates. But those results were not generally known to the public until a Houston Chronicle series called Jailhouse Jeopardy detailed disturbing patterns of abuses as well as failures to report use of force against inmates.

Musick cited the newspaper's series, as well as past federal investigations, as reason to increase the number of jail inspectors rather than reduce them.

"Our clients tell us day in and day out of their abuse in the Harris County jail, and that it's the worst experience in their life and they'd rather be in the city jail or sent to" state prison, Musick said. "I know the Chronicle has uncovered a lot of internal affairs reports that show within the jail command staff that supervisors whitewash reports of abuse, so you need that oversight from outside the chain of command because ... it's all too easy for one to cover for another."

Anonymous said...

The story of the mentally ill elderly man is horrific Norman Hicks sr.did not deserve to die in this manner it is the same story a white officer murdering a black man with no charges brought against him.The deputy and his coworkers plans these type of assaults that's why they took this old man to a isolated area such as a attorney booth knowing there were no cameras and they were the only witnesses to such a brutal beating it's obvious mr hicks was hit more than once how can you explain the broken ribs and the teeth found in his stomach which the autopsy revealed the doj has to step in and start holding someone accountable for these acts how many will be murdered before this county is stopped