Civil rights advocate: Jail medical staff had 'callous disregard' for inmate

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A day after calls for Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia to step down in the wake of a case where an inmate was left in his cell for weeks, the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project said he has new concerns over how the jail's medical team handled the case.

"I have never seen anything like this in my 41 years as a lawyer," Jim Harrington told Ted Oberg Investigates. "This is just unbelievable."

Harrington was reacting to the revelation on Friday that the Harris County jail's medical team knew the condition that mentally ill inmate Terry Goodwin was in during his weeks in a jail cell without being let out.

Goodwin was left in his cell living amid heaps of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces.

Under questioning following a Friday press conference, the executive director of health services at the jail said that members of his medical staff were aware of Goodwin's condition in the cell during the weeks he was locked inside.

"They documented it in the medical records," Dr. Michael Seale said. "They followed policy and procedure."

Seale refused to describe the incident as a communications breakdown, but did say that members of the jail's mental health team did see Goodwin as he was kept in his fetid cell and did not alert anyone outside the medical chain of command.

"They did the job they were asked to do," Seale said.

No medical jail staff were disciplined.

Garcia's office defended the jail's medical staff Monday.

"It is important to note that the medical staff is charged with caring for inmate health," according to a statement. "Inmate Goodwin's health status did not deteriorate or change during the course of his incarceration. The degradation in his cell was environmental and therefore not the responsibility or purview of medical staff."

However, Harrington, who has been closely following the Goodwin case called that lack of action "unfathomable."

"It's almost unbelievable to me that this could have happened and certainly unconscionable that you have the medical staff totally aware of this," Harrington said. "In terms of them being medical professionals, it certainly it is malpractice to allow this to have happened."

ABC-13 is unaware of any malpractice investigation or official charges of malpractice at the jail.

Harrington has been working with the Sheriff's office to improve jail conditions, but Seale's revelation suggests bad policy from the sheriff and hints at problems beyond the Goodwin case, Harrington said.

"It's a reflection of the callous disregard that the medical staff have for prisoners," he said. "It certainly opens up the county to liability, itself, because this reflects a policy."

Garcia has changed policies in the jail since Goodwin was discovered, including the medical policy. Garcia announced several of those policy changes in October, just days after the initial report by Ted Oberg Investigates.

"At the time of this occurrence, there was no precedent indicating a need for medical staff to work with housing/security staff to address inmate Goodwin's cell condition," according to a statement from the Sheriff's office. "We've learned that medical and detention operations must work together to rectify environmental and quality of life concerns."
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