Sheriff unveils multi-point plan to improve jail

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, saying he remains "damn angry" over a inmate left in a cell living in his own waste and filth, announced Thursday a multi-point plan aimed at improving inmate safety and living conditions.

"This is a jail where we want people to learn their lesson within the boundaries of the law, but they are not to be treated less than the human beings that they are, regardless of how fragile they may be," Garcia said.

The unveiling of the plan, which includes the creation of a new jail inspection bureau and a web portal for inmate family and friends to report problems, came days after ABC-13 reported on the case of Terry Goodwin.

Goodwin, in need of mental health care, was left in his cell for weeks without being let out, sources told ABC-13. He was left to live amid heaps of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces, according to whistleblower interviews and photos provided by Harris County Jail insiders.

Garcia said his investigation into the Goodwin case is ongoing, and is aided by the Harris County District Attorney's Civil Rights Division and the FBI. He has also asked the U.S. Department of Justice for help.

The investigation is an "open, extensive and comprehensive" probe into what happened and who knew what, when, Garcia said.

"This most recent incident has cast an unwelcome shadow on the entire Harris County Sheriff's Office and that is regretful because we do have goodhearted, honest and hard-working public servants working in this very place, and I want this investigation to vindicate them," he said.

He said his investigation would likely lead to firings, noting that he had fired 249 employees since becoming sheriff in 2008.

"When this investigation is complete, that number is probably going to be higher," Garcia said. "I am not afraid to fire anyone that needs to be."

Goodwin was found in his fetid cell October 10, 2013. Garcia said he was only told about the incident when ABC-13 began asking questions about six weeks ago.

He said that no one has been fired, or even transferred, while the investigation is ongoing. Garcia said he wanted the investigation to be complete so that his response could be "surgical."

He also said he believes this was an isolated incident.

"We don't know of any other inmate under those conditions," he said.

Garcia's comments came on the heels of more jail news.

Hours before Garcia's press conference, an inmate in a Harris County courtroom was found to have been carrying a shank, a homemade knife that appeared to be a brush handle sharpened to a point. He was also found with a sock filled with a heavy object that could also be used as a weapon.

It's unclear how inmate Weylin Alford got to the courtroom with the shank, since the Sheriff's Department policy is to pat down inmates whenever they are transported from one location to another.

Alford claimed he brought the shank to court multiple times before.

Two more shanks were found during a search of Alford's jail cell Thursday, officials said. Guards also found a shank in his cell in January.

Garcia said he had not been told about that incident and is not sure how it may have happened.

"We have some of the most innovative people wearing an orange jumpsuit," he said, noting that jail can be a dangerous place for detention officers.

Garcia's multi-point plan includes:

  • A new jail inspection bureau led by a high-ranking officers to conduct "more aggressive and regular inspections" of cells.

  • Improved documentation of jail visitation and inmate refusals of visits.

  • Inmate quality-of-life checks will now be conducted by lieutenants, rather than lower-ranking Sheriff's officers.

  • Expansion of mental health training to guards.

  • Inspectors are now tasked with giving weekly briefings to the Sheriff's command staff, alerting them to any troubling finds.

  • A web portal for inmate family and friends "to report any concern they may have about the care, treatment or services" being provided to someone in the jail. Garcia said concerns raised in the emails will be promptly responded to.

  • A tip line for Sheriff's employee to "lodge complaints and observations.

  • A plan to engage inmate family members earlier if an inmate's medical and psychological health shows deterioration.

"We want to make sure our system doesn't fail us again," Garcia said.

KTRK-TV News Photojournalist Jaime Zamora contributed to this report.
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