HOUSTON – A family is pushing for answers after their son died under the supervision of the Harris County Jail. It’s the fourth inmate death this year.
“I feel they dropped the ball,” Tracy Smith said.
Smith says her uneasy feeling started on Tuesday afternoon.
“When I didn’t get a call at 1′clock,” she said. From her 23-year-old son Kevin Smith.
Since July, he had been in the Harris County Jail on a $50,000 bond— charged with sex abuse of a child. Later that day, she got a message on social media.
“[He] said he saw Kevin leave out on a stretcher,” she recalled.
Smith says no one at the jail answered her calls.
She says eventually, his defense attorney was able to confirm his death.
“You should have called and told me, ‘Hey mom, there’s complications going on,’” Smith said
Kevin Smith’s father says a few weeks ago, his brother also died while in the Harris County jail.
“We get a phone call that my brother is deceased,” Kevin Smith Sr. said.
In 2022, there were 27 reported deaths at Harris County jail.
“If that pace continues, that will be a new record for this coming year, 2023,” civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen said.
Kallinen says overcrowding at the jail is an issue.
Last year, the Harris County Jail was placed on noncompliance status by the Texas Commission on jail standards.
“The cases are taking too long,” he said.
He says it can take a while for video evidence in criminal cases to get turned over to attorneys.
“I’ve had several cases as a criminal defense lawyer where when I got the video evidence, the case was dismissed out of the backlog,” Kallinen said.
The District Attorney’s office says they have an online portal available to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Houston Police Department, and other agencies to directly load video evidence.
“By getting the video evidence to the district attorney’s office in a timely manner, that should bring the number of cases down so there isn’t overcrowding,” he said.
KPRC reached out to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez about the recent deaths at the jail and he declined the interview.
The Smith family is planning a protest outside the Harris County jail, downtown at noon on Sunday.