Attorney: 'Hard to believe' indicted jailers not scapegoats

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Two Harris County jail sergeants were in court Tuesday, their first appearance since being indicted last week for their alleged role in keeping an inmate in his cell for weeks without being let out.

Detention Officer Sergeants Ricky D. Pickens-Wilson and John Figaroa both face felony charges of tampering with a government document. Prosecutors accuse the jail guards of signing off on cell checks that inmate Terry Goodwin was in good condition, even while he was languishing in a cell amid heaps of trash, swarms of bugs and piles of his own feces.

Assistant District Attorney Julian Ramirez told the judge that Pickens-Wilson allegedly directed others not to search Goodwin's cell and that the rancid conditions inside the cell continued for weeks.

Ted Oberg Investigates in September was the first to report on the conditions in which Goodwin was kept. In the wake of ABC-13's reports, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice also began conducting probes into the incident. Those investigations are ongoing.

The court did not ask either Pickens-Wilson or Figaroa to give a plea Tuesday, but a lawyer for one of the accused and the mother of the victim said they both believe more than just these two in the Harris County Sheriff's Office knew about the filthy conditions Goodwin was kept in.

Pickens-Wilson's attorney John Denholm said he questions how only two jailers knew what was going on.

"I find it hard to believe," Denholm said. "I mean basically you've got two sergeants, the lowest level supervisors in there, and they are the only people charged in something like this?"

Denholm, a former sheriff's deputy with 28 years experience, including several stints in the jail, said he believes his client is a "scapegoat" for higher-ups in the sheriff's department.

"I can tell you when I worked there, something like this would've got to the top pretty quick," he said.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who runs the jail as part of overseeing the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said he was not aware that Goodwin had been kept in such conditions until Ted Oberg Investigates began asking questions about it last summer.

Denholm pledged an exhaustive search to find out who else inside the jail may have known about Goodwin's condition.

Mashell Lambert, the inmate's mother, said she, too, finds it hard to believe that Pickens-Wilson and Figaroa were the only two jail officials who knew what was going on with her son.

"The only two that we have felony indictments against is out of probably a hundred that had some knowledge of what happened to my son." she said.

Lambert also said how difficult it was to be face-to-face with the men accused in the case.

"It's very hard, very hard," she said, crying as she left the courtroom. "To be in the same presence with the men who basically left my son to die was very hard," she said.

Both Pickens-Wilson and Figaroa face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. They have been relieved from duty, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that prosecutors showed Mashell Lambert photos of her son and the cell he was in on the day Terry Goodwin was discovered in the cell. ABC-13 regrets the error.
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