Deputy terminated, new safety protocols implemented after inmate’s hanging death at Harris County Jail
HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — An internal Harris County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the death of a jail inmate has determined that a deputy assigned to medical security failed to conduct required face-to-face checks on the inmate in a timely manner. The family of Vincent Dwayne Young called for justice, saying they did not believe he would harm himself and demanded a thorough investigation.
The deputy’s employment has been terminated and the case has been referred to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for review.
Young, 32, was found hanging from a bedsheet in his private cell in the jail’s Health Services section on Feb. 13.
The internal investigation into Young’s death concluded that the deputy responsible for verifying his welfare exceeded the state-mandated maximum time between observational rounds.
State law requires detention officers to personally observe inmates housed in single-person cells every 30 minutes. Harris County Sheriff’s Office policy requires that those observations be made every 25 minutes, a higher standard.
Immediately after discovering the deputy’s failure to properly conduct observation rounds, the Sheriff’s Office reported this finding to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
In addition, the Sheriff’s Office implemented a number of initiatives to provide better accountability and oversight. The new measures, which are now in effect, include the following:
• Watch commanders are now required to conduct weekly, random audits that compare detention officers’ written inmate observational rounds records with video footage to verify accuracy.
• Supervisors must verify that detention officers conducting their rounds are also obtaining firsthand evaluation of the inmates’ attitudes and temperament, as well as observing the physical, mental, and emotional condition of each inmate to detect signs of distress or need for medication, psychological or other special services.
• Supervisors are meeting with detention officers to reiterate the imp ortance of properly conducting inmate welfare rounds.
• For 30 days, Compliance and Inspections staff will make daily site visits to the Health Services row. Thereafter, compliance and inspection will conduct random audits of staff performing their observational rounds.
• The Sheriff’s Office is seeking funding to install additional video surveillance cameras in those health services cells, which typically house inmates requiring close observation.
• The Sheriff’s Office is exploring technology applications that may assist in ensuring observational rounds are conducted in compliance with policy.
The Texas Rangers are conducting an additional independent investigation into Young’s death at the invitation of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
“The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is committed to ensuring the safety of all residents, including those housed at the county jail,” said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “Our sincere condolences are extended to Mr. Young’s family.”