Harris County, Texas Jail Prisoner’s Death Results in Firings, Lawsuits
In August 2012, two Texas jailers and a deputy sheriff were fired for failing to summon medical assistance for an injured 72-year-old prisoner at the Harris County jail in Houston, and for failing to report a guard who punched the prisoner.
The termination letters sent to the three employees provided a glimpse into the events surrounding the death of Norman Ford Hicks, Sr., a retired Houston butcher with a history of mental health issues and family violence. [See: PLN, Sept. 2013, p.23].
Hicks, arrested on a probation violation, was being disruptive in a cell block at the Harris County jail on January 16, 2011. Guards Christopher S. Pool, 26, and Christopher L. Taylor, 33, and deputy Joseph P. Jameson, 37, removed him from the cell block and put him in a small booth normally used for attorney visitation. Sometime later they noticed that Hicks had urinated and defecated on the floor. They moved him to another booth and told him to remove his soiled shirt and shoes.
Taylor later told investigators that Hicks threw his shirt at Pool, Pool tossed it back and Hicks brought up his fists. Pool then punched Hicks in the face. However, Pool said Hicks threw the shirt in his face, blinding him, and he punched Hicks as Hicks was advancing on him.
Either way, Pool struck Hicks in the face and Hicks fell, hitting his head on a concrete bench. Pool told investigators that he left Hicks on the floor, unresponsive, and went to wash himself. That’s where a supervisor found the elderly prisoner, lying in a pool of blood. Pool later changed his story to say that Hicks was not unresponsive when he left to go wash up.
The supervisor summoned medical staff and Hicks was taken to a hospital where he died six days later, on January 22, 2011. The cause of death was complications from a heart attack after suffering head trauma; Hicks also had a broken nose and fractured ribs.
“They used him like a punching bag,” said Hicks’ son, Norman Hicks, Jr.
Pool, Taylor and Jameson received termination letters for failing to summon medical help for the severely injured Hicks and for failing to report Pool’s use of force. Pool’s letter also stated that his “actions may have had the effect of provoking, rather than de-escalating, the confrontation with Mr. Hicks.”
Pool and Jameson appealed their firings and were later rehired. Taylor’s appeal was rejected, and he filed suit against the sheriff’s office and the Civil Service Commission in September 2014 in an attempt to get his job back.
The incident was referred to a grand jury which did not indict Pool, Taylor or Jameson despite a finding of homicide as Hicks’ cause of death by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
Hicks was survived by four children who filed a wrongful death suit against Harris County, the sheriff’s office and Pool, alleging a systemic failure that was “a negligent implementation of the [jail’s] policy on securing mentally ill” prisoners. The case was removed to federal court where it remained pending the county’s motion for summary judgment as of June 2015. See: Hicks-Fields v. Pool, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:12-cv-03650.
The Harris County jail has repeatedly been cited for a high number of prisoner deaths. [See: PLN, Jan. 2010, p.14; Oct. 2009, p.1; Sept. 2007, p.9].
Sources: Houston Chronicle, Houston Press
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Related legal case
Hicks-Fields v. Pool
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:12-cv-03650|