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Suicides in Texas Jail Cells: Statewide Problem of Suicidal Inmates Dying While In Care and Custody of Texas County Jails

Jails all across Texas are having a real problem of inmates killing themselves.   Now, it appears that some of those suicides are forming the basis of wrongful death lawsuits brought by the grieving family members against the jail officials, the county responsible for the facility, and others who may share responsibility for the inmate’s death.   Bottom line:  it’s dangerous to go to jail in Texas.

Duty Placed on Jailers Under the Texas Administrative Code to Protect Suicidal Inmates From Themselves

Under the Texas Administrative Code (TAC), corrections facilities have a duty defined in Texas law to monitor those under their power and oversight, particularly those inmates that may suffer mental illness or possibly be considering suicide.  Here’s the exact language from Rule 275.1 of Chapter 275 in the Public Safety and Corrections Title of the TAC:

Every facility shall have the appropriate number of corrections officers at the facility 24 hours each day. Facilities shall have an established procedure for visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by corrections officers at least once every hour. Observation shall be performed at least every 30 minutes in areas where inmates known to be assaultive, potentially suicidal, mentally ill, or who have demonstrated bizarre behavior are confined. There shall be a two-way voice communication capability between inmates and staff at all times. Closed circuit television may be used, but not in lieu of the required personal observation.

Texas Jails All Across the State Have Jail Inmates Committing Suicide While Behind Bars

Regardless of the duty that is placed upon Texas jails under the Texas law, people are killing themselves in their jail cells at an alarming rate – and it’s not just a problem in a single facility or locale.  Consider these sad realities – and these are just a few of the examples of this state-wide problem:

1.  Victoria County (Victoria area)

In April 2012, federal inmate Marcus Duprey Washington committed suicide by hanging; a little over a year before that, another Victoria jail inmate committed suicide by taking a string from his sweater to hang himself in his jail cell.  Washington was known to be bipolar and it was not known if Washington was on or off his needed medication at the time of his death.   According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the county jail was in compliance with all legal regulations at the time of Washington’s death. Victoria County Jail is taking steps and changing its procedures to try and prevent future suicides among its inmates, however.

2.  Llano County  (Austin area)

Shawn Appell committed suicide in his Llano County Jail cell on August 6, 2011, and the Texas Rangers investigated the death.  Appell was known to have psychological problems; these became known in an earlier circumstance when in August 2008, Mr. Appell faced allegations that he was stalking the local district attorney and a competency evaluation revealed that Appell was not able to stand trial on stalking charges due to his delusions. This month, his mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the jail administrator; the jail supervisor; and the Llano County Sheriff alleging that their neglect caused the death of her son, Shawn.

3.  Nueces County (Corpus Christi area)

Over two years ago, Nueces County Jail inmate Samuel Salazar committed suicide after clearly telling his jailers that he wanted to harm himself.  According to news reports, Salazar said things like “I want to kill myself” and “I want to kill myself with scissors,” and Salazar unsuccessfully tried to kill himself a few weeks prior to his death by hanging himself with a bed sheet.  Nueces County correction officers did put Salazar on suicide watch at times, but it wasn’t steady.  After a couple of weeks from the bed sheet incident, Salazar was taken off suicide watch and shortly after that, Salazar committed suicide in his jail cell by hanging himself using a mattress cover.

The family of Samuel Salazar has now filed a wrongful death suit against Nueces County officials.

4.  Bexar County (San Antonio area)

At the Bexar County Jail, two inmates have committed suicide in 2012 and in 2009, six Bexar County inmates killed themselves while incarcerated at the county jail that serves the San Antonio area. In 2010, a suicide prevention expert was hired to review Bexar County Jail practices and his suggestions have been implimented.  Cameras have been installed to monitor inmates; cordless phones have replaced corded ones; bunk beds are out.  Suicide watch inmates are watched 24/7 via cameras that monitor them in their own separate cells, and Bexar County corrections officers have been required to attend special classes on how to deal with mentally ill patients.

One point being made by Bexar County Judicial Services Director Mike Lozito: more and more mentally ill individuals are being routed to local jail facilities instead of mental health facilities.

5.  Other Texas County Jail Suicides

The Texas Jail Project keeps track of these cases, and reading through their web site you can learn of other cases where Texas jail inmates have killed themselves while under the care and control of a Texas correctional facility.  Montgomery County has seen two suicides in 2012; Gillespie County Jail; and the San Jacinto County Jail offer more examples

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