Sheriff highlights staffing shortage after inmate dies in cell

Sheriff Ron Hickman says his staff is stretched to the limit and while cameras captured the assault that led to the inmate's death, there was no one watching the cameras at the time. The inmate was found unresponsive in a holding cell April 5, 2016.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - After an inmate was beaten to death in a holding cell, the Harris County Sheriff is pointing to the lack of staffing in correctional centers. 

Patrick Joseph Brown, 46 of Katy was found unresponsive in a cell after being assaulted on April 5, 2016. Two other inmates have been charged in his death.

Records show Brown had spent only about a day behind bars for allegedly stealing a guitar before he was beaten inside the Harris County Inmate Processing Center. He later died at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

“The death of any inmate is a tragedy,” said Sheriff Ron Hickman on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a rare occurrence that we have an inmate-on-inmate death.”

And rare, says Sheriff Hickman, to happen before the man even made it into the actual jail.

Officials with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office say Brown was still in the booking process when he was found.

“The cell has camera systems in it, but it’s not a monitored system,” said Sheriff Hickman. “It’s not somebody sitting there looking at a bank of monitors, watching what’s going on.” 

Sheriff Hickman says that’s because his staff is stretched to the limit.

While his staff periodically checks on inmates in the holding cell as required by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Hickman says they’re also busy processing around 350 inmates a day - which he says takes about eight hours per inmate. 

“It certainly is a staffing issue,” said Sheriff Hickman. “We’re several hundred employees short within the jail system now, and we’re only able to operate by pulling people in to pull double shifts.” 

Officials say the video eventually led them to charge two men, Curtis Maxwell and Ebenezer Nah, in the attack.

However, court records show shortly after the attack Nah bonded out on a previous felony drug possession charge before being taken back into custody. 

“Not knowing why (Brown) was there, we proceeded from there from a medical standpoint, so not knowing a crime had been committed” said Sheriff Hickman. “It’s not until we reviewed the video that we found out exactly what happened.” 

Sheriff Hickman and county and local leaders are hoping a new $2 million grant announced Wednesday can expand diversion programs, create new positions, and implement other measure to help them cut down the number of inmates by 21 percent over three years. 

The Sheriff also told KHOU 11 his office has launched an investigation into Brown’s death and will be providing a report to Commissioner’s court and the Budget Office.

Sheriff Hickman says they’ll also be working with the Budget Office to tackle the staffing problem. 

Both Maxwell and Nah are charged with Aggravated Assault, Serious Bodily Injury, but those charges could be upgraded based on what the medical examiner finds.


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