Friday, September 12, 2008

Hubris: Galveston Sheriff leaves inmates, deputies, in hurricane's path

Galveston Island residents were told to flee Hurricane Ike or face "certain death," but the Sheriff has inexplicably decided not to evacuate 1,000 prisoners from the county jail, even though serious flooding has already begun.

It's bad enough to risk the inmates' lives, but downright bizarre to me that the Sheriff is willing to risk his deputies. The National Hurricane Center has predicted waves that will top Galveston's seawall potentially by several meters, which would easily flood the town. Take a look at these scary projections of how much flooding might occur if Ike does its worst.

"We did this during (Hurricane) Rita (in 2005) and no one knew until it was absolutely done," said a Sheriff's spokesman. Of course, Rita didn't hit Galveston Island directly and there was never a serious risk that it would breach the seawall. By contrast, with Ike still two hundred miles away, the surge has already raised water levels more than five feet, with 25 foot surges expected.

In 1900, more than 8,000 people died on Galveston Island after a major hurricane (pictured). The Sheriff is definitely tempting fate to take such a risk.

UPDATE (9/13): The Galveston Daily News reported last night before the storm fully hit quoting a mother who'd spoken to her son in the jail:
“He said, ‘Mom. I’m worried, scared and hungry. All of us are here cramped into this little room on the first floor. The flood waters are rising and we’re not going to evacuate.’”

Nuzzo said her son didn’t see water in the jail, but heard it was rising on the island.

“I called but they’re not answering the phones. It’s ludicrous they left the inmates there.”

Tuttoilmondo said the jail is primarily one level. Its phones were ringing all day
So from this we learn that the jail is a one-story structure, while most of the people who stayed in Galveston lived on the second or third floor, which is why they thought they'd survive widespread flooding. Besides, those folks chose to stay; inmates were put in this situation by the Sheriff. The whole thing sounds like a recipe for disaster potentially worse, even, than the abandonment of thousands of prisoners in the New Orleans jail during Katrina.

The Sheriff's decision tees me off the more I think about it. If he didn't stay at the jail himself along with the prisoners and the deputies he left behind, the man frankly should be run out of town on a rail when the Hurricane is past.

I checked the most recent (Aug. 1) Galveston jail population report (pdf) which showed 1009 inmates at that time, about the same number in the jail now. The majority of them, 653, hadn't yet been convicted but were sitting in jail awaiting trial; 264 of those were charged with a misdemeanor or state jail felonies (low level drug and property crimes). The Sheriff said these prisoners couldn't be moved for security reasons, but that's a bogus claim. The truth is he could have RELEASED most of them without harming security.

NUTHER UPDATE: Officials announced at 9:30 p.m. last night that there was no Ike-related loss of life, but I can't find any reports mentioning the jail from after when the bulk of the storm hit. I found some tidal data for Galveston showing the surge - nearly eight feet above normal levels around 3 a.m. - has gone back down, thank heavens. But that's high enough to risk drowning inmates on the first floor if those floodwaters reached the jail. What security concerns could justify such a risk?

AND MORE: Still no word on the jail. There was an earlier report that six feet of water surged into the county courthouse next door, but this morning CNN reports "
The storm flooded the historic district with 7 feet of water, which has since subsided to 4 feet, according to a Galveston county official. A foot of water flooded the city's main courthouse, where many people rode out the storm." If folks in the courthouse are okay, that's also a good omen, one would think, for the stranded jail inmates. Other areas of Galveston were harder hit. According to the New York Times:

[Fire] Chief Varela said flooding in the city was from 8 to 10 feet deep in some areas. On the way to a fire that his department couldn’t reach, he said he saw a pickup truck that had water over its roof.

“The low-lying neighborhoods are extremely flooded right now,” he said.

STILL NO WORD: As of this morning, Governor Perry's spokespers said she "did not know about any Ike-related deaths and did not have any information about inmates at a jail on Galveston that was not evacuated."


Anonymous said...

The Galveston Jail is located at 5700 Ave H; or 57th & Broadway, close to where I-45 turns into Broadway. They are within probably 3 blocks of Offatts Bayou to the southwest; they are within maybe a mile of Galveston Bay to the north. And of course, the Gulf is to the south by a couple of miles.
With the storm surge expected, and flooding started this morning, I certainly hope they aren't keeping the prisoners in the basement - or the first 3 floors. (Haven't been able to find a picture of the building - how tall is it?)
Hoping for the best.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a law against 'endangering public safety' in Texas? If so, the Sherrif should be charged with it.

lzt said...

The Galveston jail is a one story structure adjacent to the courthouse. There is now 6 ft of water at the courthouse.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

There's an article in the Amarillo Globe News this morning about a woman facing three counts of felony child endangerment for trying to take her three children across I-40. (There was a pedestrian overpass only a block away. It was truly stupid and reckless behavior on her part if she's guilty as charged.) But my point is, should the sheriff be charged with 1,000 plus (however many prisoners and deputies he left behind) counts of reckless endangerment? And if there should be loss of life, that many counts of negligent homicide? I take it the good sheriff evacuated?

Anonymous said...

I knew Sheriff Gean Leonard years ago. He seemed like a nice guy. Hope he decided to stay on the premises at the Galveston County Jail for the last 48 hours.

The island is my home town. The jail was always near the court house, not on 57th and Broadway.

Anonymous said...

Please post any info as soon as possible. This sheriff should definitely face consequences for any harm done to even one of those inmates due to being forced to remain in harm's way.

Anonymous said...

My nephew is in that jail, too. Last contact we had was that the jail was operating on a skeleton crew, because the rest had evacuated. They were supposed to release him Friday afternoon, but couldn't because of the skeleton crew status and not being manned to process the paperwork.

I was infuriated when I learned that the county officials would risk the lives of over a thousand inmates simply because relocating them would prove to be an expensive undertaking to the county budget.

We live in west Texas and I don't know anything about the county officials there, but I certainly hope someone will have the decency to initiate some sort of investigation for negligence and endangerging the lives of hundreds of citizens to avoid budgetary costs.

Honestly, I cannot even comprehend that level of stupidity and total lack of concern for live.

Anonymous said...

Contact Fox. This is right up Geraldo's alley.

Hugh McBryde said...

Romans used to just kill them (See the Apostle Paul's time as a prisoner in Acts) so I guess MAYBE dying in a hurricane is a social improvement?

Crusty said...

Hugh, you certainly get credit for perspective...

Hugh McBryde said...

I am a kinder and gentler Pharisee....

Anonymous said...

Wow, once again Texas demonstrates a new low in self-hate.

It's like an ongoing daily update to how a government can destroy its own people.

I'll be down there to loot all the shit after you people manage to kill each other off.

Anonymous said...

not only is the sheriff guilty of crimes against humanity, it is with criminal intent, imo.

Anonymous said...

Why don't these consevative Christrians (which I have no doubt) read the actually Bible. Wow this guy needs to really repent in a hurry.

People should call his office w/a quote from Mathew 25 (a long passage actually).

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Anonymous said...

As if we needed another to be good and not get ourselves sent to jail!

Anonymous said...

I spent yesterday trying to raise hell about the Galveston jail. Some responses:
From NOAA Nat'l Weather Svc: "The local Weather Forecast Office has done everything possible to make it very clear that there are grave risks for people not evacuating. The decision to evacuate is one made by local authorities based on information from NWS - don't know how much stronger the local Weather Forecast Office could word their advisories sent and briefed to the local emergency managers."

From Weather Channel: certainly agree that this would be a human rights issue. However, this situation does not fall under the “certain death” warning given by the National Weather Service. That was alerting people to get away from low-lying areas. Jails are multi storied and the Galveston County Jail is not seen as severely threatened. For example, our in-field meteorologists with The Weather Channel are on Galveston Island very near where the jail is. However, they’ll be staying in a 16-story hotel, which follows the warning order. So the jail is complying with state and local advisories, and they are moving people from lower areas to higher stories. Thanks for your concern, and I hope that helps.

From someone at the Dept. of Justice (no sig on this message, but a lot of good info. Someone really was trying to help):
Thank you for contacting the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)–a statistics agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, and which part of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. I'm sorry but we cannot be of assistance. You have contacted a statistics agency, not a law enforcement agency. Please also note the movement of inmates are not made public for security reasons. You can try contacting the Galveston County Sheriff's Office Corrections Bureau--Jail Division for further information. Their website is available at

Other related websites include the following:
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
The Attorney General for Texas
Texas Office of the Governor
Texas Courts
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Administration .
If you believe there's a civil rights violation, you need to write a letter (not email) to:

Criminal Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-3204

From the ACLU:Dear Friend,Thank you for contacting the ACLU. Your comments and questions are very important to us and a representative will respond to your query as soon as possible."

It's not just TX. We have to keep pressing for evacuation pre-plans for all state institutions, and insist that mandatory evacuations be followed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Jails are multi storied"

Except in Galveston, where prisoners are kept "primarily in one level" according to the Daily News.

Hugh McBryde said...

THIS conservative Christian HAS read the Bible and knows that prison and jail are never punishments given by God to his people Israel for any crime.

In fact, the position of scripture with regard to prison is that of universal horror and revulsion. Hell is compared to prison.

In my personal experience with both prisoners and their guards, I find prison to be one of the most dehumanizing experiences possible. For both guard, and guarded.

Anonymous said...

NUTHER UPDATE: Officials announced at 9:30 p.m. last night that there was no Ike-related loss of life

Was this before the announcement of the 21 deaths?

Cnn reported 21 deaths yesterday. (Sunday)

Anonymous said...

I pulled these pictures from county jail website...are they for real?

Anonymous said...

I mean really is this supposed to make family members of inmates feel better?

Anonymous said...

Was the 21 deaths in the county jail? My friend is in there and i have not heard from him since last Wednesday. I am so worried.

Anonymous said...

I was fired from the galveston county jail because I didnt come to work when I was told by my supervisor that I didnt have to come to work because they had enough volunteers to man the jail. President Bush and governor Rick Perry urged every galvestonian to leave the Island or you will die but the sheriff told us to stay. I had to evacuate my wife and 2 year old son if its any legal or any information you can pass on to me email me at or call my cell 409-457-6777