HOUSTON – Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez discussed on Wednesday the sexual assault of a sergeant at the Harris County Jail, in addition to many other issues at the facility. He laid it all out during a press conference, speaking about the assault of the officer, the stress of the staff and the “bad and tough actors” the “underpaid” guards have to oversee on a daily basis.
“Law enforcement is doing a great job of arresting and getting them off the streets, but somebody has to care for them while they are waiting for their day in court. Our staff, I commend them because they do “yeoman’s work” every day. Our team here has to deal with them every single day and you’re talking about some very tough actors,” Gonzalez said. “We are dealing with a very complicated population that doesn’t want to be incarcerated and when you slow the courts down further, you have that idle time, more hostility and many times it is turned on our staff. So far, we’ve reported approximately 1,200 assaults from inmates on our staff. That’s a range of things. It could be throwing urine on them, it could be throwing feces, it can be an all-out assault.”
Sheriff Gonzalez called what happened to an HCSO sergeant who was assaulted by an inmate in an administrative office Monday afternoon “heinous.”
“It’s something that’s shaken us to the core. I can tell you that personally, at a personal level. I’ve felt so many different feelings over the course of these last two days from anger to being sick, heartbroken, just devastated, just a number of range of emotions,” Sheriff Gonzalez said.
The inmate, who has been identified as Jeremiah Williams, 28, was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault.
Williams, who was leaving a church session, was wearing a purple arm band, which means he was required to have an escort but he was completely alone when he encountered the sergeant, who was also by herself.
“And so what we know or just the basic gist of what transpired that day is we had an inmate, a jailed inmate that was on his housing floor. He went to a scheduled Bible study class. We do have a robust chaplaincy program. He went to that class during the course of that session,” Gonzalez explained. “At one point he walked out prior to the ending of it. And as he was returning back to cell, he made entry into an administrative office where a female sergeant was alone and ambushed her and, like I said, brutally attacked her.”
According to the Harris County Deputies Union, the sergeant, who has been with the department for over two decades, was raped, beaten and left “unrecognizable.”
Williams’ criminal history
Deputies say Williams has a lengthy criminal history, including multiple offenses for sex-related crimes.
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.
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.
Inmate roaming freely
Many have questions of how a violent offender like Williams was not under more “watchful eyes,” to which Gonzalez shared some existing jailhouse protocols.
“I do want to say that most jails do allow some level of open movement. This person was on his floor and had not left his floor; that’s not necessarily uncommon. And so they get moved to different locations throughout a facility. At times it may be to medical, at times, it may be to some programming. We feel that programming is important because idle time can really create difficult situations in a gentle environment and they just have idle time all day,” Gonzalez said.
He went on to explain, “so, you know, we’re proud that this year even through everything that we’ve gone through with COVID and everything we’ve been able to open up jail visitation, for example, to make sure that they have contact with family and other things like that. There are different levels of of restrictions that may be in place, depending on the inmate’s classification, for example, and then may be have full access to go about that floor perhaps, but may not leave that floor. There’s also other restrictions that may require a full escort at all times. You have some that may require a full escort when it comes to being handcuffed and what have you again, all these are different operational factors that we have to keep in mind.”
Gonzalez said he considers Williams a bad actor who took advantage of an opening which he manipulated to his advantage.
In addition, deputies have been concerned due to short staffing because of incidents like this, David Cuevas, President of the Harris County Deputies Organization, said.
Gonzalez said the Texas Jail Commission also made a surprise visit to the facility recently.
Areas that were mentioned during the visit included cleanliness and sanitation, observational rounds, and general staffing. Gonzalez said that the facility does, however, meet the ratio requirements (1:48). Gonzalez said HCSO is still working on a staffing plan to help with this.
“We want to exceed minimum staffing efforts,” Gonzalez said.
The sheriff also discussed wishes for a pay increase for the staff. He said on average, guards make around $41,000 or, in his words, a salary comparable to a school bus driver. Not ranking the level of difficulty or respect for either profession, Gonzalez pointed out multiple times the tough obstacles jail staffers are up against.