Harris County sheriff addresses recent jail death; Texas Jail Project offers solution to help with ongoing problem

HOUSTON – On Wednesday, we asked the county’s top leader what is being done to address deaths at the Harris County jail.

The most recent death happened on Tuesday.

Robert Terry, 32, died after suffering an apparent medical emergency.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he has spoken to Terry’s family.

“Obviously it’s unfortunate. Our condolences go out to the family. We know it’s always difficult when they lose someone,” the sheriff said.

According to jail administrators, six inmates have died at the Harris County jail this year.

KPRC 2 asked the sheriff what is being done to address the problem and prevent jail deaths from happening.

“As we’ve said before, we are committed to review everyone, every death is unique,” he said.

According to officials, Terry asked officers to be taken to the jail clinic just moments before he was said to have collapsed at around 6:20 in the morning.

We asked the sheriff if medical staff performed CPR on Terry.

“He went to the clinic and reported he wasn’t feeling well. He went to the clinic and eventually to the hospital,” he said.

Almost two hours later, Terry died.

“How you to go from custody to a casket,” Jacilet Griffin said.

Griffin’s son, Evan Lee, died at the jail last year. She is hoping the Senate will pass House Bill 3434.

“This bill will have some type of transparency for the Harris County jail. It’s a study that will help with procedures, everything in their process of the detainees. This will help save lives,” she said.

“We get so many complaints from family members and people inside the jail about not receiving timely medical care when they ask for it, when they beg for it and they need it,” Krish Gundu said.

Gundu, co-founder and executive producer of the Texas Jail Project, said 190 inmates have died at the Harris County jail since 2009. At the same time, she said only 160 have been executed statewide.

“The point I’m trying to make is that jails - county jails - have become a death sentence,” she said.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has also outlined a number of deficiencies at the facility during its most recent inspection, including overcrowding, long inmate stays, inmate deaths and the struggle to retain detention staff.

“Unfortunately, we are the largest jail in Texas and similar to many other jails in the state at times. Unfortunately, there are going to be times when area falls short and we need to make sure we improve and take it seriously,” the sheriff said.

When it comes to policy changes, Gundu says there is one thing jail officials can do.

“It’s to reduce overcrowding. Unless we can reduce the population at the jail then we will not be able to address people’s medical needs,” Gundu said.

According to records, Terry had no physical injuries and had been in the jail since May 13. He died before his court appearance, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

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