HOUSTON – In a little more than a month after a 19-year-old inmate with special needs was beaten to death at the Harris County Jail, a sergeant at the facility was sexually assaulted by an inmate, authorities confirm. What makes the attack even more concerning for some is that a Houston attorney representing the family of the beaten inmate warned that another attack was imminent at the understaffed 1200 Baker Street facility.
On Monday, at about 2 p.m., investigators said an HCSO sergeant reported that she was assaulted by an inmate in an administrative office on the fifth floor of the facility.
Authorities said the sergeant was immediately taken to the jail clinic for treatment and later transported to a local hospital for further medical care and support services.
The inmate, Jeremiah Williams, who will be 28 years old on Wednesday, has been charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault.
“The brutal attack of our Sheriff’s Office teammate warrants a thorough and swift investigation,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Uncovering all the relevant facts related to this alleged assault is a top priority as we seek answers and justice. All our brave employees deserve to feel safe, and we will do everything to protect them. Our team’s immediate focus is offering a range of full support to our team member.”
Documents show that the man police say sexually assaulted the sergeant has a lengthy criminal history, including multiple offenses for sex-related crimes. Somehow, he was free to roam the facility out of watchful eyes, ending up in the office of the caught-off-guard sergeant.
The sergeant’s identity is being withheld, but according to the Harris County Deputies Union, the sergeant was alone when Williams wandered into her office. He then attacked the woman; beating, raping and choking her, leaving her unrecognizable. Williams was leaving a church session and no one was available to escort him back to his pod even though he was wearing a purple arm band, which mean he was required to have an escort.
Union representatives said the sergeant has been employed with the department for over two decades.
They also said the incident could have been prevented and should not have happened. The union is calling for a thorough investigation by Sheriff Gonzalez and his administration.
“We are concerned because we are short-staffed. We’ve made that known. The public knows it, the commissioners know it, but we don’t believe they’re doing anything about it,” David Cuevas, President of the Harris County Deputies Organization, said.
Houston attorney Randall Kallinen predicted that something like this would happen again.
On Oct. 29, Fred Harris, a 98-pound inmate with special needs was killed by a 240-pound inmate in what authorities describe as an “unprovoked attack.”
Harris, who was described as gentle and loving, was a first-time offender and his accused killer, Michael Ownby, had a lengthy and violent criminal history, leaving many to question why the two were ever matched as cellmates.
During a Nov. 3 press conference, Kallinen, who was representing the Harris family, said “Sheriff Gonzalez and the Harris County Commissioners Court have put inmates and staff at high risk due to failure to address problems at the Harris County Jail.”
Kallinen further stressed that, if changes were not made, more violent attacks at the jail were “bound to happen again.”
Williams was no stranger to the law.
According to records, Williams was charged with aggravated sexual assault, attempted sexual assault and evading arrest in 2020. His bond amounts were set at $75,000, $60,000 and $10,000 respectively.
Records show Williams had more than half a dozen charges for theft in 2018 and 2019, with some being dismissed as “errors” and others listed as convictions with state jail times ranging from 49 days to one year.
Also, in 2018, Williams was sentenced to serve four days in jail for evading arrest and indecent exposure. The same year, he was charged with possession of marijuana and trespassing - both of which were dismissed.
He also spent 51 days in jail for theft in 2017; 10 days in jail for theft in 2016 and two days in jail for trespassing in 2015.
Detailed Inspection Report
On the very day the sergeant was viciously attacked on the 5th floor, according to officials, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards released its findings from a surprise inspection that happened weeks ago.
KPRC 2 Investigates obtained the report, in which inspectors wrote, “the lack of sufficient staffing has contributed to the heightened level of tension and inmate hostility” within the county jail.
To be specific, several deficiencies were noted. The report states:
“While reviewing the face-to-face observations from the 1200 Baker Street and the 701 N. San Jacinto jail facilities, the inspection team observed multiple checks that were late with as much as 90 to 144 minutes lapsing between round.
In some instances, comments were entered into the system revealing why rounds were conducted late and included remarks as short staffed, no rover available, the Corretrk system did not update. There were several occasions where no comment was entered into the system indicating what the observation round was conducted late. This was an area of deficiency during the last annual inspection.”
Another section of the report states:
“A review of documentation revealed that while the 1:48 officer to inmate ratio is being met, Harris County Jail utilizes supervisors as well as other essential staff members in assigned duty posts in order to meet this requirement. This practice removes personnel from their assigned supervisory duties as well as from auxiliary duties such as intake, classification and mailroom. It was determined that there are times when there are not enough personnel to perform duties other than to meet the 1:48 requirement.”
The inspection also found that numerous cells in the facility were filthy, cluttered, several had burn marks and residue, and unknown black substance and dirt build up was found in the mop sink areas.
Statement from Harris County Judge
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued the following statement to KPRC 2 Investigates:
“This latest alleged assault at the County jail is beyond horrific. No public servant - or inmate for that matter - should ever be in a position where their safety is in question simply because they are in a jail. The status quo is not acceptable and we must do everything we can to make sure deeply troubling incidents like this one stop happening. I have and continue to commit to doing everything possible to ensure the Sheriff’s Office gets the resources it needs to improve jail conditions. Already, we’ve granted requests from the Sheriff’s Office to address staffing and security - from increasing hazard pay for officers and funding for the facility, to increasing recruitment for detention officers. All involved in the system also have to address the unacceptable backlog in our criminal court system. On average, inmates are spending 202 days in the county jail awaiting trial and this also plays an unfortunate role in the systemic issues the jail is facing by crowding the jail beyond its means. That is why we’ve invested heavily to reduce the backlog and will continue to do so.”
Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Court have been providing the jail with additional resources to address overcrowding and safety, including funding for the jail increased from $186 million in FY 2017 to FY $245 million in FY 2022; court-approved hazard incentive pay of $100 per pay period for detention officers and jail staff, totaling $1.77M for the balance of the year; court-funded more detention officer positions: 40 new positions added through converting unfilled positions elsewhere in the Sheriff’s office. Added 100 new positions (on top of the $40); and court-approved funding to Increase training class sizes and recruitment efforts: this is an HCSO-driven initiative.
The detention officer class is being held every two weeks, targeting 45 to 50 attendees per class. Hidalgo says this is a big increase over what they’ve been doing.