In the past year, over 30 inmates have died while in custody at the Harris County Jail. Now, family members of some of those who died have joined with civil and human rights activists to condemn law enforcement leadership and officials and demand change.
“We are calling on Commissioners Court to investigate the allegations of abuse, murder and wrongdoing in the Harris County jail,” said community activist Quanell X. “We cannot trust them to investigate themselves. We want an outside agency that’s paid by the Commissioner’s Court of Harris County to investigate all these deaths, killing and beatings in the Harris County Jail.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office recently announced the indictment of a former Harris County Jail detention officer who was charged in connection to the death of an inmate from 2021, which is the first time charges have been filed for an in-custody death at the jail.
A Harris County medical examiner ruled that the inmate died of blunt-force trauma to his head, prosecutors said.
“You just had a deputy arrested for beating the hell out of one of these inmates,” Quanell X said. “But that’s not the first one in the last several months. It’s happening over and over again in this jail. And it’s only because the Department of Justice has not stepped in and taken over this jail. Just because a man is charged with a crime, doesn’t mean he’s guilty of that crime. And just because a man has been charged with a crime, does not mean that he no longer has human and civil rights or constitutional protection. The Harris County Jail has become the house of death in Houston, Texas. This is the biggest funeral home, the biggest morgue in Harris County.”
The mother of Kevin Leon Smith Jr., Tracy Leewoodson-Smith, said she was never told about her son’s death in the jail. She found out via social media that her son was found dead in his cell, reportedly from an asthma attack.
“Ya’ll don’t have the decency to call and tell a parent and family nothing that’s going on with they loved ones in here?” Leewoodson-Smith said. “He’s just a number. I lost my brother-in-law three weeks prior to that, the third victim that got killed.”
Local activist Dr. Candice Matthews said she and other local community leaders have a meeting with Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on Thursday in reference to what is happening at the Harris County Jail. They will discuss adequate staffing in Harris County Jail; adequate notification, according to state and federal law, of when loved ones are to be notified and how to be notified when an inmate dies; and their request for an outside agency to be contracted by Harris County Commissioner’s Court to investigate the allegations of abuse, wrongdoing and murder in the Harris County Jail.