Feb 14, 2023 - News

Attorney calls for DOJ investigation into Harris County Jail

Photo of a press conference with a man in a suit speaking in the front and people holding photos in the back.

Attorney Ben Crump holds a press conference with families of people who died in jail, including the Smith family, who lost two people within a month. Photo: Shafaq Patel/Axios

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and several families are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the conditions in Harris County Jail, demanding transparency and change within the system.

Driving the news: At least four people have already died in the jail this year: Jacoby Pillow, Rajdeep Singh Bains, Gary Smith and Kevin Smith Jr.

What's happening: Crump, who is representing several families of those who died in the Harris County Jail, and Dallas-based attorney Paul Grinke are demanding videos regarding the deaths be released, as many families still don't know the details of how their loved ones died.

  • Of note: Crump also represents the families of George Floyd, Tyre Nichols and several other victims of police brutality.

What they're saying: "I can't even fathom what excuse they can come up with to try to explain or justify losing so many detainees in the county jail," Crump said at a press conference yesterday. "We are not going to continue to let these detainees who are disproportionately Black and brown detainees to be killed at the very hands of the people who swore oath to protect and serve them."

  • "We're going to continue to demand transparency. That's the very least you can give these families."

Details: Pillow, held on a $100 bond, died on Jan. 3 after the jail staff "used force," according to a statement from the sheriff's office. Grinke said they have "credible reason to believe" Pillow died from compression asphyxiation from being restrained, similar to Floyd.

  • Grinke also said Kevin Smith Jr. was beaten while he was detained.
  • Smith's mother said she spoke to her son the day before he died, and he was in good health. She noted that she found out about her son's death through a social media message from another detainee's mother before hearing about it from the jail.

The other side: Sheriff Ed Gonzalez requested that the FBI investigate two deaths that occurred inside the Harris County Jail — Pillow's and Jaquaree Simmons', who was allegedly beaten to death by guards in 2021. One former detention officer was indicted last week for his role in Simmons' death.

  • "I look forward to learning the FBI's findings, because we must all know the full truth if we are to improve our operation and make the jail as safe as possible for everyone entrusted into our care," Gonzalez said in a statement.
  • The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on Monday.

Go deeper: Harris County lacks a clear action plan for addressing the jail crisis


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