More than 600 Harris County Jail staff members attacked by inmates this year, records show

Brooke Taylor Image
Tuesday, July 25, 2023
Hundreds of jail workers assaulted as staff shortages persist
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This year, there have been 673 assaults on Harris County Jail staff and 2,153 inmate-on-inmate assaults, records show. One county organization has been trying to do something about this since 2021.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A detention officer was brutally beaten on the job, but it doesn't come as a shock to some like David Cuevas, the president of the Harris County Deputies' Organization, given the jail's history.

"Since 2021, when we filed our federal lawsuit, we have been talking about thousands of assaults between prisoners and our staff," Cuevas said.

According to court records, J. Valdiviez was attacked by Christian Dillard, an inmate with a lengthy record including a capital murder charge and several charges of assaulting guards while behind bars.

This year, there have been 673 assaults on staff and 2,153 inmate-on-inmate assaults, according to jail records.

In 2021, there were 939 assaults on staff members, including a female sergeant who was sexually assaulted and ambushed by an inmate inside her own office.

"She hasn't been back to work. That's traumatizing, and now we are going through this over and over again with more of our detention officers being assaulted," Cuevas said. "Enough is enough. We've got to fix the system and get it right."

"We work hard to make our jail safe for everyone who lives and works there. That's no easy task in an overcrowded facility that houses more than 800 people charged with murder or capital murder," Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted earlier.

However, the jail fails to even meet state standards. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards found the jail non-compliant during an inspection in February, and now five months later, it is still listed as non-complaint.

"We are not able to protect our prisoners, which we are constitutionally obligated to do, and at the same time our deputies and detention officers are suffering," Cuevas said.

Staffing issues contribute to the areas the jail fell short of, including mandatory visual checks on inmates.

Currently, there are 193 vacant openings, according to the sheriff's office. To try and make up for that gap, officers are forced to work overtime. All personnel have to work 12-hour shifts with a four-hour overtime block added to their shift, according to the sheriff's office.

"Sometimes they are focused to stay a lot longer," Cuevas said. "They are called in to compensate and supplement being short-staffed. It's not just in our detention facility. It's out on patrol."

Cuevas does not believe anything will change until the department has better funding and compensation packages for detention officers and deputies.

"Why would anyone want to come work at the Harris County Sherriff's Office? Where you can get brutally assaulted, raped, short-staffed out on patrol, supervisors having to run calls for service because we don't have enough deputies," Cuevas said.

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