Two months after saying he was "damn angry," no action from Sheriff

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ByTed Oberg via KTRK logo
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
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Not one member of Sheriff Garcia's department has been disciplined or temporarily reassigned since an inmate was found in filthy cell

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said he was "damn angry" about how inmate Terry Goodwin was kept -- locked in a cell for weeks in his own filth -- and unveiled a multi-point plan to make sure no one in the jail would be treated like Goodwin again.

"I am outraged by the recent accounts of failure in the Harris County Jail," Garcia said on October 2, noting that his investigation would likely lead to firings. He also said he had fired 249 employees for various infractions 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."

But in the two months since announcing he was "damn angry" and three months after he said he learned about Goodwin because of questions asked by ABC-13, not one member of Garcia's sheriff's department has been disciplined or even temporarily reassigned.

Garcia also said he would not let the investigation delay his taking action.

But that appears to be exactly what has happened.

And now it's Goodwin's mother who is damn angry.

"If I was damn angry, I would have taken more action," said Goodwin's mother, Mashell Lambert. "Sheriff Garcia looked at me, I sat right beside him and he promised me that what my son went through would not be in vain. However as of today, months down the line, I know nothing."

Garcia has turned the investigation over to the Harris County District Attorney's Office, the FBI and the US Department of Justice.

Garcia declined an on-camera interview request, pending the end of a Department of Justice visit to the jail. That visit ended Tuesday.

"Accountability will be addressed," he said in a statement. "However, rushing to disciplinary transfers, suspend, or terminate employees without getting the facts first maybe (SIC) not bring the best results that will prevent this from happening again."

See Garcia's complete statement here.

Public safety officers in other agencies are routinely reassigned pending the outcomes of investigations, but inside the jail, no one from the lowest-ranking detention officer to Garcia's own chief deputy has been touched.

"It's still under investigation." Lambert said. "That's always their words when I ask a question I feel they don't want to answer."

Lambert said that sheriff's officials did tell her that some jail employees had been transferred. Garcia's office said officials there may have told Lambert that there had been transfers within the jail, but clarified to ABC-13 that those transfers had nothing to do with the Goodwin case.

ABC-13 first reported in October about Goodwin, who, in need of mental health care, was left in his cell for weeks.

Goodwin was discovered only when a sheriff's jail compliance team entered the 23-year-old's cell on October 10, 2013, whistleblowers told ABC-13. When Goodwin, in jail because of a probation violation, was discovered, he was wearing a filthy, shredded jail uniform in the fetid cell, sources said. Shards of his orange uniform were hanging from the ceiling light.

It is possible Goodwin was kept locked in a solitary cell for as long as 60 days without ever being let out, in violation of numerous state laws. Photos show bugs, rotting food and overflowing toilets.

If you're on our news app, tap here to view photos

When the story broke, State Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called the Goodwin incident "the worst incident of abuse in a jail in Texas in probably the last 10 years."

A whistleblower said he waited a year for action inside the jail. When action failed to come, he approached ABC-13.

Goodwin is now in a Dallas area prison.

Read the initial ABC-13 report here.

Read Monday's report on the state and Department of Justice inspection of the jail here.

One criminal justice expert said there are many reasons disciplinary action may take time. One possible scenario: If there are many employees involved, wholesale transfers may affect the jail's operations.

"The difficulty for someone like the sheriff to address an issue that may have wide-ranging implications is that instead of doing a surgical action he may end up amputating his own arm," said Larry Karson, a criminal justice management professor with the University of Houston Downtown.

Karson also said that investigations can be difficult for the families of those who want action and answers.

"One can understand anger, but good investigations take time," Karson said.

Sheriff's officials point to progress, though, particularly with Garcia's multi-point jail improvement plan announced in October after ABC-13's reporting.

For example, one of those points was the creation of 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.

So far, 251 inquiries have been made through that portal, according to sheriff's officials. Most of those inquiries were medical questions from family members about loved ones in the jail.

Garcia also announced a tip line for sheriff's employees to "lodge complaints and observations." Seven calls from employees have been made to that line, officials said. Each of those complaints will be investigated, they said.