Houston-area family says Harris County jail didn't tell them brother had COVID until it was too late

Jessica Willey Image
Thursday, April 21, 2022
Family says jail didn't tell them loved one had COVID
A Houston-area family said they were notified their loved one was sick of COVID when it was too late to say goodbye.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Relatives of a Harris County jail inmate are upset they were not notified that he was critically ill with COVID-19 until it was too late.

Damian Lopez, 29, had been in the Harris County jail since December 2021 on a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure. There were also competency issues due to mental illness, according to court documents.

His family told ABC13 he contracted COVID in February, which court documents confirm. They were notified on March 7 when Lopez was already unconscious and on a ventilator. They say it was too late and are heartbroken that they missed his last conscious moments. Lopez died on March 25.

"We went to see him but we couldn't talk to him," explained his sister, Onisa Lopez.

"I just wish we knew sooner," said his twin brother, Hugo Lopez.

In response, the Harris County Sheriff's Office told ABC13 that the family was notified as soon as they knew it was serious.

According to their timeline, Damian Lopez was hospitalized on Feb. 21.

On March 7, a doctor told the department that Damian Lopez's prognosis was not good and that the family should be notified. A chaplain made contact. They also petitioned, the sheriff's office says, for compassionate release. Instead, a personal bond was granted on March 9 and he was released from Harris County custody, but Damian Lopez never left the hospital.

"The Harris County Sheriff's Office extends its condolences to Mr. Lopez's family for their loss," the sheriff's office said in a statement.

Damian Lopez's family regrets their brother's situation was not handled differently.

"Was he going to the nurse in there? Did they know he had COVID? Did they wait for it to get worse?" said Onisa Lopez. "He really didn't do something to deserve to end up like this."

You can read the full statement from Harris County Sheriff's Office below:

"The Harris County Sheriff's Office extends its condolences to Mr. Lopez's family for their loss. In response to your questions, Texas law prohibits the Sheriff's Office from commenting on the symptoms that lead to Mr. Lopez's February 2022 transfer to a local hospital, on Mr. Lopez's medical history, on his underlying health conditions and on other protected health information. On March 7, 2022, St. Joseph's Hospital first contacted the Sheriff's Office regarding Mr. Lopez and the seriousness of his condition.

The Sheriff's Office's Chaplaincy team unsuccessfully attempted to contact Mr. Lopez's family using the next of kin information provided by Mr. Lopez during his last two bookings into the Harris County Jail facilities. When those efforts failed, the HCSO Chaplaincy team found family members' information through research of another County department's files. Given the HCSO Chaplaincy team's efforts, contact with Mr. Lopez's family was made within hours of notification by the hospital.

At the time Mr. Lopez passed away, he had been on bond for more than two weeks and was not in the sheriff's office's custody."

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