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Texas Jail Officials Disciplined, Indicted for Leaving Prisoner in Squalor

by Matt Clarke

On October 10, 2013, a Texas jail compliance team discovered mentally ill Harris County jail prisoner Terry Goodwin, 54, in a cell "amid heaps of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces." Goodwin had apparently been locked in the cell for at least a year and, in accordance with a note on the cell door. jailers had not opened the door, even to remove refuse, for weeks.

Jail medical staff was aware of the conditions in the cell, but took no action. None of the medical staff was disciplined over the incident.

"They documented it in the medical records," said Dr. Michael Seale, executive director of health services at the jail. "They followed policy and procedure." Seale said the fetid conditions in the cell were "environmental," and the responsibility of security, not medical staff.

"I have never seen anything like this in my 41 years as a lawyer," said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, referring to the medical department's uninterest. "This is just unbelievable."

In April 2015, guard Sergeants Ricky D. Pickens-Wilson and John Figaroa were indicted for tampering with government documents by falsifying jail records. They and four other jail supervisors were fired. 29 other jail employees were disciplined in connection with the Goodwin incident. Those employees--detention officers, sergeants, certified sergeants and deputies--were suspended for up to ten days. The major who supervised the building where Goodwin was held was demoted to lieutenant and Chief Deputy Fred Brown, who was in charge of overall operations at the approximately 9,000 -bed jail, was allowed to retire.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia called Brown a "good man" and called the abuse of Goodwin a "bad attempt to avoid conflict with a violent inmate." Activists have called for Garcia's resignation.

"Ten days? I'm furious," said Goodwin's mother, Mashell Lambert referring to the suspensions Garcia handed out. "For what they did to our son just ten days? This is not what I call justice. This is slap on the wrist. They sat and watched our mentally ill son deteriorate and prepare his cell to commit suicide and did nothing." In addition to mounds of styrofoam food containers and a sink, shower drain and toilet clogged with feces and other waste, the jail inspectors observed strips of Goodwin's ragged jail uniform hanging from the cell's light fixture as if he were preparing to hang himself.

Goodwin's case came to light when jail employee whistleblowers sent Ted Oberg Investigates of the Houston ABC television affiliate KTRK photos of Goodwin in his fetid cell. As a result of the scandal, which State Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called "the worst incident of abuse in a jail in Texas in probably the last 10 years," jail policy was changed so that the medial department and security work together on cell conditions and the treatment of mentally-ill prisoners was improved.

Goodwin filed a lawsuit against the county, which settled in June 2015 for $400,000. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.39].


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