Two Harris County sergeants indicted in case of inmate left in cell for weeks

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A Harris County grand jury indicted two sergeants after an inmate was discovered locked in his cell with rotting food, feces bugs (KTRK)

A Harris County grand jury indicted two jail sergeants Tuesday for their alleged role in keeping an inmate, jailed on a marijuana charge while on probation and in need of mental health care, in his cell for weeks without being let out.

Inmate Terry Goodwin was found in his cell October 2013 in his cell, wearing a filthy shredded jail uniform and living amid heaps of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces, which was first reported in September by Ted Oberg Investigates.

Detention Officer Sergeants Ricky D. Pickens-Wilson and John Figaroa both face charges of felony tampering with a government document after they allegedly signed off on cell checks that Goodwin was in good condition, officials said.

The two directed other jail officials to overlook him, according to Goodwin's mother Mashell Lambert, who was briefed by prosecutors Tuesday

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

"A number of people told us they've never seen conditions this bad," said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Julian Ramirez, who also praised Ted Oberg investigates for bringing Goodwin's conditions to light.

"This investigation, your investigation, has had a positive effect on things over there in the jail," he said.

Lambert, who was at the courthouse, said she is happy someone will be held accountable for what happened to her son.

"For a grand jury to have to tell you, 'You are wrong,' that's sad," Lambert said. "Shame on them, shame on them. I think it will be a hard road for their families."

Lambert said, though, she wanted to see more than just two of the jail's middle managers punished.

"I think more people should be held accountable," she said. "I think Adrian Garcia should be held accountable. There, I will just get that out. That's exactly how I feel."

Sheriff Adrian Garcia testified before the grand jury Tuesday as part of the Harris County District Attorney's probe into the condition of Goodwin.

Shards of Goodwin's orange uniform were hanging from the ceiling light when he was found, photos show and according to whistleblowers. His sink, toilet and shower drain were clogged, not just with feces, but with toilet paper in an apparent attempt by Goodwin to cover his own waste and with orange rinds, perhaps in futile effort to mask the smell.

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

Ted Oberg Investigates was the only reporting crew outside the grand jury deliberation room when Garcia emerged.

He asked to testify before grand jurors, Garcia said.

"I wanted to learn as much as they have from this whole investigation," Garcia said. "I don't know if it was a criminal act; that's why we gave it to the District Attorney's office so they could look at it. I asked to be here. I wanted to make sure my reforms are adequate."

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."

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are also conducting probes into the incident.

It is unclear how long Goodwin was in the cell, but a timeline put together with records and interviews shows it could have been weeks -- or even longer.

On June 5, 2013, Goodwin was charged for assaulting a guard, records show.

It was around that time Goodwin stopped visiting his mother when she came to the jail.

"They would tell me he refused the visit," she told ABC-13 last year. "I didn't believe it. Every time? I never quit going but I didn't see him. They'd tell me, 'He doesn't want to come see you.'"

Weeks before his discovery in the cell, Goodwin was declared incompetent to stand trial. Whistleblowers say that it's likely Goodwin was in his fetid cell while the court determined him incompetent on September 2013.

Around that time, Goodwin's attorney also attempted, unsuccessfully, to get in to see her client at least four times.

Goodwin was discovered by a jail compliance team in his fetid cell October 10, 2013.

Goodwin was taken to Rusk State Hospital for mental health treatment on October 30, 2013. He stayed at Rusk until February 27 and was declared competent for trial.

In March, he was sentenced to three years in state prison for the assault on the guard.

A whistleblower said he waited a year for action inside the jail. When action failed to come, he approached Ted Oberg Investigates, which began looking into the case in August 2014.

After the story broke in September 2014, Garcia said he was never told about the case by his deputies.

According to interviews with whistleblowers, many officials in the jail knew about the cell and its condition, including at least three lieutenants, one captain, one major and two chief deputies, including Chief Deputy Fred Brown, who oversees jail operations.

The DA's office said that while two jail supervisors were found to have allegedly engaged in criminal behavior, there were others in the jail who did not properly perform their jobs.

"A lot of people didn't do their jobs," ADA Ramirez said. "Now that doesn't mean they all committed crimes under the penal code, but they didn't do what they should have done."

Several days after the story broke amid withering news coverage, Garcia announced that he was "damn angry" that it happened 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.

The grand jury decision marks the first action against any member of the sheriff's department in connection with the incident.

Garcia has declined to discipline or even temporarily reassign any detention officers over the past six months, citing the ongoing investigation by the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"Now that the Grand Jury has completed its investigation, my staff will work to conclude our internal investigation," Garcia said in a statement released late Tuesday. When I met with Mr. Goodwin's mother, I promised her justice. I hope that this decision helps to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring Mrs. Lambert and the public that when policies, procedures, and laws are intentionally violated all will be held accountable."

See the original Ted Oberg Investigates report here.
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