Texas Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has fired 11 department employees and has suspended another six without pay in connection to the alleged murder of an inmate who was found unconscious in his cell in February.
The inmate in question was Jaquaree Simmons, 23. He was allegedly repeatedly hit by officers during a number of disputes. According to an internal investigation, the inmate had three separate altercations with detention officers.
Harris County Sheriff Gonzalez spoke at a press briefing on Friday and stated that the fired employees “betrayed my trust and the trust of our community,” regarding their treatment of the deceased inmate who had been booked into the jail on weapons charges the previous week.
On Feb. 16, Simmons reportedly clogged his toilet with his clothes that morning. After officers were forced to clean the flooded cell, Simmons was returned to his cell stripped of his clothes. That is a policy violation and was evidently not reported.
(Video Credit: KPRC 2 Click2Houston)
“When removing an inmate’s clothes, you’re supposed to advise a supervisor, you’re supposed to increase the rate in which you conduct visual checks, and you’re supposed to provide a suicide smock,” Major Thomas Diaz of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office noted. “None of those occurred.”
That night, a detention officer reportedly struck Simmons in the face after the inmate threw his meal tray at him and then charged the officer. Other officers were called to the scene to take Simmons to be evaluated medically. They allegedly hit him in the head multiple times. It is being claimed that the incident took place out of view of security cameras.
The inmate reportedly told a physician that there was no pain and that he only had cuts to his face, so he was returned to his cell. Officers did not return him to the clinic for X-rays as was requested.
At noon on Feb. 17, Simmons was found unresponsive in his cell. He was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital.
During the investigation, it was determined that officers had failed to do visual checks of the cell pod where Simmons was being held. Because of the severe winter storm at the time, the electronic checks were not working.
Simmons’ death was ruled a homicide by medical examiners due to blunt trauma to his head.
.@SheriffEd_HCSO says they fired 11 employees & suspended 6 others after an inmate died in February inside the county jail. The death is being investigated by @houstonpolice as homicide. They say 23-yr-old Jaquaree Simmons died one day after being hit by detention officer @KHOU pic.twitter.com/kikKoEtopt
— Anayeli Ruiz KHOU (@AnayeliNews) May 28, 2021
The fired employees included detention officers Garland Barrett, Patricia Brummett, Joshua Dixon, Alysheia Mallety, Israel Martinez, Eric Morales, Alfredo Rodriguez, Daniel Rodriguez, Chadwick Westmoreland, Detention Sgt. Jacob Ramirez, and Deputy Dana Walker.
“They abused their authority,” Gonzalez harshly stated. “Their conduct toward Mr. Simmons was reprehensible. They showed complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of a person they were directly responsible for protecting. They escalated rather than deescalated the situation. Their conduct was unacceptable and inexcusable and their acts discredit them, the sheriff’s office, and their fellow employees. None of them deserve to wear the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Patch ever again.”
Diaz reported that the officers who were terminated violated numerous department policies including making false statements to investigators, using excessive force, failing to document the use of that force, and not intervening when a fellow officer used excessive force.
The sheriff said the suspended officers may also face further discipline or termination regarding their actions.
“I understand that these disciplinary actions in no way make up for what happened to Jaquaree Simmons inside our jail but I owe it to him, to his mother, and to our community to do everything in my power to ensure those who had a hand in it are held accountable and that this sort of thing never happens again,” he vowed.
President Biden nominated Gonzalez in April to head ICE.
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