Inmate dies after Harris County jailhouse beatingMay 6th, 2016 | By admin | Category: Harris County, In The News
A Houston man arrested for stealing a guitar died after being beaten by two other inmates in a crowded holding cell at the Harris County jail, according to court documents.
The April 4 beating was captured on a cell surveillance camera, but no guards were watching at the time. Jail officials allowed one alleged assailant, Ebenezer Nah, 26, to post bond on a felony drug charge and freed him soon after the attack.
Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ryan Sullivan said Nah was allowed to leave the detention facility because he had not yet been identified by investigators as a suspect in the assault on inmate Patrick Joseph Brown.
Sheriff’s investigators later used the same footage to charge both Nah and another inmate, Curtis Anthony Maxwell, 23, with aggravated assault.
Brown, 46, was arrested on a misdemeanor theft charge April 3, but not yet able to post $3,000 bond. He had been housed at the 701 San Jacinto jail only about a day when the assault occurred about 11:48 p.m. on April 4. He died of a brain hemorrhage at a hospital about eight hours after the attack, according to court and county records.
In an e-mail response to questions, Sullivan confirmed that surveillance cameras were recording activities in the cell block that night, but acknowledged no one was monitoring the cameras at that time.
Sullivan said jailers made a mandatory check of the holding cell three minutes prior to the assault, but that staff were initially unaware that an assault had occurred during an argument among the three inmates. Instead, they say they were later notified of “an unknown medical emergency.”
“It was not until investigators conducted a review of the surveillance footage that the assault was discovered,” Sullivan said in an email.
Diana Claitor, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Jail Project, said the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death made her question whether Harris County jails were adequately staffed and supervised. Claitor said Texas county jails generally have a high employee turnover rate.
“But certainly in holding cells where … a lot of different people (are) held together, there should be a lot of supervision,” Claitor said. “And especially if they have video, why are they not keeping up with the situation better?”
About 20 inmates in cell
A Houston Chronicle investigation in 2015 found that assaults occurred frequently at the jail. At least 75 in-custody deaths were reported from 2009-2015, most of whom were pretrial defendants like Brown.
The Chronicle identified at least 19 cases in which inmates died of illnesses that were either treatable or preventable, or in which delays in care, or staff misconduct, could have played a role in their deaths.
Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said the agency is investigating Brown’s death, reported to the commission on April 5. It’s one of seven in-custody deaths reported by the sheriff’s office this year, though no details were immediately available.
After Brown’s death, a sheriff’s investigator reviewed surveillance footage from holding cell No. 338, where Brown, Maxwell, Nah and about 17 other inmates were being held at the time of the assault. Court documents state that the footage showed both Nah and Maxwell hitting and kicking Brown’s face, head and body.
The assault lasted less than a minute before Brown crumpled to the ground, curled into a fetal position, “spasmed significantly and rolled to his back,” according to a court record. Moments later, Brown stopped moving.
Medical personnel entered the holding cell about 13 or 14 minutes after the incident and started giving Brown CPR, the same record shows. He was transported to Memorial Hermann Hospital, arriving shortly before 1 a.m., and died later that morning. Court documents do not state what happened in jail between the end of the assault and the medical staff’s arrival.
Stemmed from argument
Investigators were able to determine the identities of Maxwell and Nah from the video and other evidence.
Maxwell, originally arrested and jailed on April 2 after an alleged felony assault involving someone he was dating, was still in Harris County jail and admitted to the assault against Brown, the court record shows. He told investigators the incident stemmed from an argument between Nah and Brown, court records state.
Maxwell told investigators he did not know Nah’s name and only knew him from jail. Another inmate who witnessed the incident identified Nah from a photo line-up.
Nah, arrested and jailed on April 1 on a felony drug possession charge, already had posted a $10,000 bond and been released by the time investigators identified him as a suspect in Brown’s assault. Charges of aggravated assault were filed against Nah on April 6. That same day, he was arrested by the Houston Police Department for unrelated cocaine possession charges.
Maxwell and Nah are being held in the Harris County Jail without bond. Charges may be upgraded against both men pending the outcome of an autopsy by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
A former girlfriend, who asked not to be identified, said Brown left behind a teenage son who has been devastated by his father’s death.
She questioned how Brown could have been assaulted on camera without anyone noticing.
“All I know is, something like this shouldn’t happen,” the woman said. “Who gets beat up and killed in jail in a holding cell?”