Eleven employees of the Texas sheriff’s office were fired and six were suspended following the death of an inmate who was struck multiple times in the head by detention officers, authorities said Friday.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he was “very upset and heartbroken” after a three-month investigation into the death of 23-year-old Jaquaree Simmons in February. Coroners ruled that Simmons’ death was a head injury homicide.
“We have a duty to protect those in our care and that did not happen,” González said.
An internal affairs investigation by the sheriff’s office found that Simmons had three fights with detention officers on February 16, when the jail lost power and water pressure during a deadly winter storm.
The first use of force against Simmons took place that morning after he clogged the toilet in his cell and officers responded to clean it up. That night, a detention officer struck Simmons in the face after he threw his food tray at the officer and attacked him, according to authorities. When more officers were called in for a medical evaluation, they hit him multiple times on the head, said Major Thomas Diaz, who led the investigation.
Simmons was evaluated by a doctor at a prison clinic and had a cut on his left eyebrow and upper lip, but reported no pain. They took him back to his cell, but officers did not take him back to the clinic for follow-up X-rays, according to Díaz.
Simmons was found unconscious in his cell at 12:10 p.m. on February 17 and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The investigation found that detention officers did not visually search the inmates in the cell where Simmons was held from February 15 until moments before they found him, Diaz said. These verifications are usually done electronically, but the system is down due to the winter storm.
Officers fired or suspended were found to have violated policies, including using excessive force, failing to document the use of force, failing to intervene when a colleague used force, and making false statements to investigators, Diaz said.
“These 11 people betrayed my trust and the trust of our community. They abused their authority, ”González said. “His conduct towards Mr. Simmons was reprehensible.”
The 11 employees who were fired included nine detention officers, a detention sergeant and a deputy. The six suspended included four detention officers, a detention sergeant and a sheriff’s office sergeant. Their suspensions ranged from three to 10 days.
Houston police are conducting a separate criminal investigation. The results will be presented to the Harris County district attorney’s office, which will determine if charges are filed.
While Gonzalez declined to comment on the criminal investigation, he said he believes crimes were committed in connection with Simmons’ death.
On February 10, Simmons was booked into the county jail charged with a felon in possession of a firearm. Díaz said he had no health problems.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism