Justice dept. probes Harris County Jail inmate's death

Thursday, February 12, 2015
Inmate's death in custody raises new questions
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The man had a heart attack but his family says it didn't have to happen

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Almost a year after Kenneth Christopher Lucas died in Harris County Jail custody, the sheriff's office released a video showing Lucas' struggle with jail guards in the minutes before he died.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia made the video public Wednesday. His guards were cleared last week by a Harris County Grand Jury in Lucas' death and Garcia said no one did anything criminally.

"We don't get to pick the inmates that come to us and the medical condition that they're in," Garcia said. "No matter the circumstances and no matter how many reviews there may be, it is never simple or easy."

Garcia said he informed the U.S. Department of Justice, which is now probing Lucas' death. Lucas died after guards sat on his back for more than 20 minutes, according to officials.

This would mark the second justice department probe into a jail incident in less than six months. Justice department officials are looking into the case of Terry Goodwin, who, in need of mental health care, was left in his cell for weeks in violation of numerous laws. Photos of Goodwin's cell after he was found show bugs, rotting food and overflowing toilets, a case only brought to light after whistleblowers came to ABC-13.

The video of Lucas shows the inmate being restrained on February 17, 2014 as he was removed from his cell. The footage also shows Lucas' hands handcuffed and held high behind his back by a guard in black, protective body armor.

The inmate's feet were also cuffed and held high on his own back while another armor-protected guard sat on them for 20-minutes, according to the video.

Lucas was dragged from the cell on his face, the video shows.

Lucas was injected with a sedative twice, and at some point, he stopped breathing inside the jail's medical clinic.

Lucas was in jail for keeping his children too long after a custody visit, according to court records.

On the day he died, Lucas ripped a smoke detector from his cell and he was sharpening it to use as a weapon, Garcia said. When he wouldn't give it up, a special team of guards went into the cell to remove him, according to the sheriff.

Lucas, 39, died from a hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease that was aggravated by physical restraint, the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said in May. His death was ruled a homicide.

After Lucas' death on the 17th, sheriff's officials pushed to have the deceased charged with criminal mischief for destroying the smoke detector.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office dismissed the case a week later with the one-word explanation: Deceased.

Garcia met with Lucas' family on Tuesday to express his condolences and to offer an apology, he said. Garcia also told the family that his policies were followed.

Lucas' family's attorney Larry Wilson told ABC-13 that being restrained inside the jail, surrounded by jail staffers and a medical team should lead to death.

"In the grand scheme of things, you would think nobody should die if you're following the procedures," Wilson said. "It appeared to me that the man who was sitting on his legs, was sitting on the legs, ultimately, of a dead man and still trying to restrain a dead man."

Garcia said he is discussing changes in policy.

It is unclear how long a justice department investigation might take.

In the Goodwin case, Garcia asked for the justice department's involvement in October, after ABC-13 first reported on 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. 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.

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