Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

In Harms' Way: Texas Prisoner Shot

On July 8, 1996, 21-year-old Texas prisoner Daniel Miguel Avellaneda was fatally shot by Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison guard Neal Harms. The TDCJ identified Harms as a 35-year-old guard who had no disciplinary infractions in his 14 months on the job.

Avellaneda, a farm worker from Mexico, was serving a three-year sentence at the maximum-security French Robertson Unit in Abilene for an assault conviction stemming from a domestic dispute. He and 19 other prisoners were on the "No. 13 Hoe Squad," which was hauling dirt from the Middleton Unit to the Robertson Unit. According to Harms, as the prisoners were pushing a trailer across a ditch, Avellaneda stopped working, made an obscene gesture, uttered an obscenity, jumped over an electric wire and started running. Harms said he twice shouted at Avellaneda to stop, fired a warning shot in the air and then issued a third oral order to halt.

"The inmate turned around, running backward, flipping me off again," Harms told TDCJ Internal Affairs Division and Texas Ranger investigators. "I then fired a second shot toward the inmate's center mass, and the inmate then fell to the ground."

The bullet hit Avellaneda between the eyes. He was taken to the prison infirmary and then to a local hospital where he remained in a comatose condition until he died the following day.

Three prisoners who witnessed the shooting offer a different account, however. The prisoners told their version of the event to the Dallas Morning News in signed letters. They mailed their letters to the paper's circulation department in an apparently successful attempt to get the information past prison censors. They requested that their names not be published because they feared retaliation.

All the letters describe scenarios in which the guard initiated the incident by riding his horse into Avellaneda. "When the inmate began to run from the huge animal, the employee [guard] began to pretend that the inmate was trying to run...," said one prisoner.

Another said: "I witnessed this inmate stop running, put his hands in up, turned facing Officer Harm (sic). He [Avellaneda] was standing still with his hands raised in the air. Officer Harm (sic) shot this inmate in the head."

The Texas Rangers' investigation report has been turned over to District Attorney Jack G. Willingham of Jones County where the shooting occurred. As of August 4, the date of the Dallas Morning News report, the District Attorney had no comment on the case. Readers who have information on further developments are encouraged to write to PLN. We will attempt to publish an update as further information is made available to PLN.

Source: Dallas Morning News, Palestine Herald Press, Reader Mail.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login