$400,000 settlement in case of Harris County inmate left in rancid, fetid cell

Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Settlement awarded in case of inmate left in rancid cell
Harris County Commissioners Court awarded $400,000 to Terry Goodwin, a mentally ill inmate who was locked in his cell for weeks

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday awarded $400,000 to Terry Goodwin, a mentally ill inmate who was left in his filthy cell for weeks without being let out.

Goodwin's mother, Mashell Lambert, praised the settlement.

"It says 'accountability,'" Lambert said of the deal. "I see some closure to it now. And I know that Terry does. He wants to get past this. He wants to move on. He'll have the money to assist with this medical care.

"Today does feel like justice."

Goodwin's case was brought to light by whistleblowers who contacted Ted Oberg Investigates last year with the allegations and photos taken from inside the jail, showing a cell full of trash and swarms of bugs.

See the original ABC-13 investigation here

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.

"It was a tough day," said Lambert, recalling the day in September when Ted Oberg Investigates showed her the photos of her son taken the day he was found during an inspection.

"It was horrible," she said. "And I couldn't be there. I wasn't allowed to be there, They hid it from me. They had my son in captivity. It was a feeling like none other."

Lambert also had a message for the anonymous whistleblower who came forward to Ted Oberg Investigates about her son's treatment.

"I never want to forget about the whistleblower and what he meant to me and what it forever means to me," Lambert said. "Because none of this would have taken place if it wasn't for this gentleman who cared enough to say, 'enough.' So I thank him publicly, whoever you are. I want him to know I am sincerely grateful for you."

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called the settlement "reasonable."

"It should have never have happened, it's a horrible incident," Emmett said after the unanimous decision. "The important thing is to make sure this never happens again."

County officials said newly appointed Sheriff Ron Hickman has opened up his own probe into the incident and has not ruled out additional criminal charges. Two detention sergeants were indicted in April for paperwork inaccuracies in the case.

The settlement also comes in the wake of disciplinary action against 29 detention officers in April, including the top jail official who was forced into retirement.

Adrian Garcia, who was Harris County sheriff at the time of the incident, has long said he knew nothing about how Goodwin was kept. He said he found out only when ABC-13 began asking questions about the inmate in August 2014, a year after Goodwin was found in the squalid conditions by an inspection team. Garcia recently resigned to run for mayor.

"I have always said that no inmate should have to experience a single day in the conditions that Goodwin endured," Garcia said in a statement to ABC-13. "I hope this settlement will ease some of the anguish both Mr. Goodwin and his mother Ms. Lambert have felt."

Garcia's replacement made his views known on Twitter.

Members of the jail's medical staff were aware of Goodwin's condition in the cell during the weeks he was locked inside, but did not alert anyone outside of their chain of command, officials said. The rules that allowed that have since been changed.

Goodwin is in the middle of a three-year sentence at Hutchins State Jail in Dallas for assaulting a Harris County jail guard in the midst of his rancid incarceration.

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

Lambert and her attorneys met with Hickman Tuesday and she said she was pleased with what she heard him say, specifically about changing the culture in the jail so this doesn't happen to anyone else.

"I quite confident in Sheriff Hickman, I truly am," she said.

But she added: "I will be watching."