HOUSTON — A recent inspection by The Texas Commission on Jail Standards shows security issues inside the Harris County Jail before investigators say a sergeant was sexually assaulted and beaten by an inmate.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez admitted during a news conference that there are problems at the jail and said they are working on solutions.
In 2019, there were 47 jailers assaulted by inmates, according to the Harris County Deputies' Organization. This year, there have been 1,265 reported.
“They are leaving in droves because it’s been an abusive atmosphere that’s been created," said David Batton, the organization's attorney.
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Batton says the deputies' organization was so concerned it filed a lawsuit in September over working conditions inside the jail.
“We are not asking for money. This lawsuit is not about money, this is about having someone come in and provide sufficient oversight and take over management of the jail," he said.
In a letter KHOU 11 obtained from the state commission to Harris County, there are three red flags from a mid-November inspection.
The first, an hour and a half to more than two hours sometimes between rounds to check on inmates. The second, pulling staff from other positions to meet the required ratio. The third deficiency was on sanitation.
“It’s critical that we exceed minimum staffing," Gonzalez said. He addressed questions about security after the inmate ambushed the sergeant in her fifth floor office Monday.
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“The reason the door was open is because of there is inadequate ventilation because of improper defective equipment, and so she opened the door to get some fresh air while she was in there working," said Batton.
“No way that this defendant should have gotten to this correction officer and he had her under his assault for 13 minutes," said State Sen. John Whitmire, (D) Houston.
He chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and says he too is concerned about conditions inside the jail.
“I think, quite frankly, it’s a public safety issue because what happens in the jail does spill out on the streets," said Whitmire.
Gonzalez said the backlog in the courts has contributed to the crowded jail and admitted many jailers are burned out.
"The other thing would be for us to potentially outsource until we could lessen some of the pressure, population wise," the sheriff said.
Jail administrators are now required to submit a plan of action to the state commission within the next two weeks.