aerial shot of Harris County Jail in downtown Houston
Harris County Jail in downtown Houston Credit: Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

A man died within hours of being booked into the Harris County Jail last month, marking the fifth in-custody death within the overcrowded facility this year.

According to a custodial death report filed Tuesday by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, 41-year-old Fabian Cortez was booked into the jail March 21 for allegedly sexually assaulting a child. During the booking process, another inmate notified jail staff that Cortez had been in the restroom for a while, according to the report.

Eventually, a detention officer unlocked the bathroom door to find Cortez “unresponsive with a drawstring from his jacket around his neck and lower extremities,” according to the sheriff’s office. He was later pronounced dead at St. Joseph Hospital — just four hours after being booked.

The charges against Cortez weren’t filed at the time of his death, the report read.

This comes as the facility continues to struggle under the weight of chronic overcrowding. As of Tuesday, there were 9,588 people in the jail and 1,063 people outsourced to other facilities, according to the Harris County Jail dashboard.

Jail reform advocates say the jail’s bloated inmate population is contributing to an increased number of in-custody deaths. Cortez is the fifth reported death at the Harris County Jail this year.

Last year, 27 people died while in custody — the highest number in nearly two decades, according to county records and data from Texas Justice Initiative.