HOUSTON – Harris County families are asking for ‘justice’ after they said their family members died while in jail custody.
Several of them spoke during a news conference organized by community activists on Wednesday after two Harris County Jail inmates, 40-year-old Eric Cano, and 56-year-old Ray Rattler, died last week. They were hospitalized with preexisting conditions.
As of July 2023, Texas Jail Project reported 11 inmate deaths in the Harris County Jail in 2023.
Rattler’s family says he was already cold when they saw him at the hospital.
Janette Gutierrez spoke during the news conference on Wednesday and said she found out her father died through the news on June 6. She added that she experienced miscommunication with officials from the jail.
Janette said she wasn’t able to contact her dad, 49-year-old Lawrence Gutierrez, for several weeks, and said the jail told her he had been released and signed out willingly. She said her dad would not have left nine children behind.
“If my father signed out, he would be home with his kids…all nine kids that he left behind including eight grandchildren and one on the way that he will never get to meet,” she said.
KPRC 2 also heard from the family of Michael Sherman. His family said he died while in custody and the sheriff’s office has not reported his death.
Jeremy Sherman said his brother Michael suffered from mental health issues and died on May 21.
“He should have been restrained and he wasn’t. The officer was following behind in an ambulance from what I’ve been told, and he jumped out of the back of the ambulance,” Jeremy said.
“We are not going to just continue [the] ‘rara’ out here in this sun every time someone dies. Action is going to be taken,” community activist Candice Matthews said.
On Tuesday, KPRC 2 learned that Ray Rattler died on June 17. The 56-year-old was booked into the jail last month.
Rattler was later taken to Ben Taub Hospital on Wednesday, June 14 due to his deteriorating health.
“They did not call me until Friday morning [June 17], and then I had to wait for them to approve me to go in and see him. When I went in there, he was cold, hooked up to all those machines. He was already gone,” his wife Roshundalyn Rattler said.
Roshundalyn says jail officials made her leave the hospital because her husband’s death was considered a crime scene.
“But it was a crime scene because something is not right. To me, that’s their way of admitting there was a crime committed,” she said. “There are human beings in this building. They [inmates] are not trash.”
In 2022, 27 inmates died in Harris County and eight have died in custody this year, according to records.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards said the Harris County Jail continues to deal with staffing issues, inmates spending more time in holding cells, staff not following medical orders or seeing inmates in a timely manner.
The Texas jail project says inmates have a constitutional right to medical care.
“The most common complaint is lack of access to timely medical care, lack of access to proper medication, and the other big complaint is the excessive use of force. There is a lot of violence being used against incarcerated people by the jail staff. That is the second biggest complaint we get,” Krish Gundu said.
Attorney Allie Booker is filing a federal lawsuit against the jail and Candice Matthews is creating a Harris County Jail Accountability Project.
“If they were not dead at their house, why are they dead here,” Matthews said.
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