Tommy Taylor–Dead in Seven Hours

Jun 7th, 2013 | By | Category: Bexar County, Lead Article
By Michael Barajas, June 6th, 2013,  the San Antonio Current                                                                                                                  

Thomas Taylor wasn’t well the night he climbed Bexar County jail’s front steps last summer.

The 30-year-old electrician battled drug addiction for much of his adult life, drawn to the dulling effects of narcotic pain pills and Xanax. For years, Taylor tried to get clean, taking Suboxone — a synthetic opioid, like methadone — and enrolling in short rehab stints.

Nothing helped for long. Taylor told family, friends, and his probation officers he needed long-term treatment to kick the habit. Following his arrest in Bexar County last April, when cops caught him driving high after scoring some pills from a local dealer, Taylor thought he’d found a solution: he’d serve time in Hays, Guadalupe, and Bexar county jails to get off probation. With the charges behind him, Taylor’s family planned to send him to an intensive six-month rehab program in Arizona that came highly recommended. Taylor had tried the place once before, but authorities in Texas came calling and forced him back months early, threatening to revoke his probation.

Bexar County was the last stop on Taylor’s South Texas jail tour, and he walked through its glass double-doors the night of August 21, 2012 to turn himself in.

Six hours later, a guard found him in an isolation cell kneeling in a prayer-like position, with blood coming from his nose and his forehead stuck to the cold floor. Officials later pronounced him dead of a methadone overdose.

Taylor had entered a Bexar County jail battling with its own sickness.

The year he died, the last year former sheriff Amadeo Ortiz was at the reins, the Bexar County jail suffered a series of public embarrassments. There were the personnel issues, like the guard who fought charges for posing as a police investigator to shake down a local business for cash, or the jailers arrested for smuggling in hacksaw blades in tacos, cell phones in Ramen noodle cups, or heroin in barbacoa. One female inmate came forward accusing a jailer of fixing her schedule to get her alone to repeatedly rape her.

There were the administrative headaches, too. Along with battling high suicide rates at the lockup, Ortiz publicly sparred with the Bexar County Commissioners Court over management of the jail, county government’s single largest expenditure. While County officials argued the jail should be able to absorb budget cuts, given that jail diversion programs had lowered the inmate population some 15 percent from the jail’s overcrowded heydays, Ortiz insisted he faced a critical staffing crisis.

Meanwhile, Bexar County jailers quit in droves due to what many called untenable working conditions, which included routine back-to-back eight-hour shifts. On rare occasions, when the jail had no one left to cover a shift, guards were ordered to work a “forced” overtime shift; former and current jail guards who spoke with the Current told of some unlucky jailers required to pull three shifts in a row.

“It was a self-perpetuating cycle,” said former jailer Eustacio Diaz, who was on guard in booking the night Taylor died. Last year, jail officials said that, on average, 10 guards quit every month. At one point last summer, 14 left within a two-week window. Diaz’s sister, also a jail guard, quit two weeks before he did late last year.

“People get exhausted,” Diaz said. “When you’ve got a facility staffed like that, mistakes happen. People can die.”

It appears corners got cut the night Taylor died. In a lawsuit filed against Bexar County late last week, Taylor’s family argues that those mistakes contributed to Taylor’s death in lockup.

Records provided to Taylor’s family indicate he was never screened for drug use or medical history upon entry to the jail. Because he called a guard “a fat fuck” and muttered “fuck these guys,” according to jail records, Taylor was thrown in an isolation cell in the jail’s booking area. No guards walked down the hallway where Taylor sat in a cell for an hour, according to records, even though policy dictates that isolated inmates be checked at least every 15 minutes. Taylor wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse when a guard who stopped in to take his booking photo found him.

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