Harris Co. Sheriff's Chief Deputy: I told Garcia about inmate abuse in October 2013

Friday, June 26, 2015
Sheriff's Chief Deputy: I told Garcia about inmate abuse a year ago
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An officer who oversaw jail operations cast doubts on ex-Sheriff Adrian Garcia's claims that he never knew filthy cell conditions

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- When former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said he was kept in the dark by his top deputies about a mentally ill inmate found in a trash-filled, feces-littered cell, he was not telling the truth, according to an exclusive ABC-13 interview with Garcia's former chief deputy.

The interview with former Chief Deputy Fred Brown, who oversaw jail operations under Garcia, casts doubts on Garcia's claims that he never knew about the deplorable conditions inmate Terry Goodwin was kept in until Ted Oberg Investigates began asking questions about Goodwin in September 2014.

As late as April 24, 2015 Garcia said he knew "nothing" about Goodwin's condition before questions by ABC-13.

"What I know today is nothing that I can recall," he said in an April 24 press conference. "Not to that magnitude."

But Brown told ABC-13 that he informed Garcia about Goodwin in October 2013, just days after a jail compliance team found that the inmate had been left in a cell for weeks. When jailers opened his cell door, Goodwin was found wearing a tattered orange jail uniform and surrounded by swarms of bugs. The compliance team took photos of Goodwin and the fetid cell.

Brown also said he showed Garcia those photos of Goodwin.

"I said, 'Sheriff, look at this,'" Brown said in a recent interview. "I told him about it. I showed him the pictures. He saw the pictures. We were in the executive conference room. He went through the pictures and looked at them."

When asked if Garcia was telling the truth in his steady and consistent denials that he knew nothing of the incident before ABC-13 broke the story on September 29, 2014, Brown was blunt in his reply.

"No he's not," Brown said. "No he's not."

Garcia launched a criminal investigation after the story broke, and ultimately called in the Harris County District Attorney, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department to probe the incident. Brown's narrative also raise questions if Garcia waited until the Goodwin incident became public to begin acting on it.

Ultimately, two jail detention officers were indicted in April for felony tampering with a government document after they allegedly signed off on cell checks that Goodwin was in good condition, officials said. Garcia fired those two, as well as four others. In addition, he disciplined dozens other jail workers and forced Brown to retire.

Garcia resigned as sheriff in May to run for the mayor of Houston.

Garcia declined a request for an on-camera interview, but on Thursday maintained he had no knowledge of Goodwin's conditions until September 2014.

"When I first found out about the condition of Terry Goodwin's cell last September, I was furious," Garcia said in an emailed statement. "I took decisive action. I launched an investigation, and as a result of that investigation, I fired and disciplined those responsible. I immediately issued orders to put procedures in place to see to it that something like this would never happen again and never be tolerated.

"Had I known earlier, I would have acted earlier with the same strong and responsible actions the record shows I took when I was informed. I will always take responsibility and act rapidly to deal with problems."

The Goodwin case shocked the community. It was brought to light by whistleblowers who reached out to Ted Oberg Investigates last year with the allegations and photos taken from inside the jail. The whistleblowers were unhappy that a year had passed with no one being disciplined for the poor treatment of Goodwin.

See the original investigation here.

Shards of Goodwin's orange uniform were hanging from the ceiling light when he was found, photos show. Whistleblowers said Goodwin's 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.

In April, when Garcia was announcing the firings and suspensions related to Goodwin's cell conditions, the sheriff also said that Brown would be retiring.

"He's a good man," Garcia said at the time. "He's done a good job for me."

Brown described Garcia letting him go.

"He said, 'Fred, regretfully we're going to have to part ways, but we found no wrongdoing on your part,'" Brown recalled.

Garcia had long pointed a finger at Brown, saying that his chief deputy should have informed him about the condition Goodwin's cell as soon as it was discovered by the compliance team.

"I'm assuming he found out... when the organization found out, when the compliance team found this," Garcia said in September. "My chief deputy over detentions (Brown) should have made it extremely clear what we were contending with."

When Brown heard that, "It felt like a Mack truck hit me," he said.

Brown said he wanted for months to talk about what happened but was prohibited from talking publicly while working for the sheriff's department during an ongoing investigation.

Now in retirement he's not limited.

Brown said he's talking now because he wants to clear his name.

"I am not bitter about this," he said. "I don't want to seem like I am saying this out of a political agenda. I am doing this because I want people to know the kind of person Fred Brown is and the kind of character I have."

He added, "I don't lie."

Brown also described to ABC-13 how he was questioned by officials about the Goodwin incident.

Under oath and warned about perjury, Brown was questioned three times about the incident.

When first questioned, Brown said his memory was vague and was "trying to remember if I showed the pictures to the Sheriff or not."

Brown, though, told investigators it was "more of an accurate account" that he he showed the pictures to the sheriff days after it was discovered.

Brown admits he did not discuss the ongoing investigation with the sheriff.

Months later, Brown clarified his original statement, repeatedly telling investigators "I did" tell Garcia and showed him photos months before ABC-13 was alerted to the case by the whistleblower.

ABC-13 was shown documents detailing Brown's statements under oath.

Brown, who served 28 years with the sheriff's department, has an unblemished record.

He started his career as a detention officer and graduated from the Harris County Sheriff's Academy second in his class.

He rose through the ranks steadily, becoming sergeant, lieutenant and, in 2008, achieved the rank of major. Brown knows the department well, too. He chalked up experience on patrol, in investigations, and for three years, commanded internal affairs.

Garcia tapped Brown to be chief deputy overseeing the jail in 2013.

"I'm very proud of that accomplishment because I was the first and only African American chief deputy in the history of the Sheriff's Department," Brown said.

Brown also created the inspection team that ultimately discovered Goodwin in the trash-filled cell.

He said he had no idea Goodwin was living in filth until his inspectors alerted him.

"I wouldn't condone anyone living in those kinds of conditions," Brown said.

Brown said he remains stunned about his retirement. He's talking now, to hold his head up high, not to disparage Garcia, he said.

"I am not good at talking ill of other people, I try not to do that," Brown said. "Either you can believe me or believe what he said, and I have been consistent in what I said."