The most recent installment of the Houston Landing’s “Deadly Detention” series has found that the Harris County Jail failed to report the deaths of half a dozen people.
Under state law, police agencies in Texas are required to report a “custodial death” to the Texas attorney general’s office no later than 30 days after a death occurs. The Landing found at least six inmates who suffered medical emergencies between December 2017 and early 2023 in the jail. Officials released them from custody after they became sick and they died hours, days or weeks later. The deaths went unreported.
Omitting the reports isn’t “in keeping with the spirit of the law,” said former state Rep. Walter Martinez, one of the original bill’s authors. “It sounds like it’s intentional skirting of the statute.”
Jason Spencer, spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, did not dispute that the six deaths were unreported, but he noted that the question of whether a person is “in custody” can be hard to answer sometimes.
The Landing requested a log of all incidents that involved an inmate being transported to a hospital from the Harris County Jail since 2017. Nearly 13,000 names came back.
The Landing went through 4,000 of them, cross-referencing them with court documents, autopsy reports and obituaries. There could be more unreported deaths, but the jail has refused to release documents detailing what prompted each hospital transfer, citing the medical practice act, which governs the release of medical records.
The six people who died in the Harris County Jail but were not counted are:
- Lawrence Gutierrez, 49, was arrested in June for allegedly violating a protective order. The judge assigned to Gutierrez’ case found no probable cause that he committed the crime and ordered his release. But before he was released from custody, Gutierrez was observed vomiting blood and transported to the hospital. He died eight hours later.
- Damian Lopez, 29, was arrested for indecent exposure in December 2021. Less than three months later, in February 2022, Lopez was hospitalized and diagnosed with COVID-19, pneumonia and sepsis. He died in late March, 17 days after being released on a personal bond.
- Moses Almazan, 44, was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in January 2021. In late August that same year, he was hospitalized for COVID-19. He was still in the hospital in September when officials released him on a personal bond. He died eight days later.
- Bobby McGowen, 80, was arrested for injury to the elderly in February 2021. On March 31, 2021, McGowen was transported to hospice after “experiencing severe health issues” and his case was dismissed. He died nine days later.
- Kelvin Williams, 64, was arrested in December 2017 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Documents show that Williams was transported from the jail to the hospital in January 2018 – the same day a surety bond securing his release was filed with the court. His case was dismissed days later because he was being transferred from a hospital to an acute care facility. Williams was on dialysis when he was arrested, but doctors had recently told them he had another 20-plus years to live, his daughter, Hattie Williams, told the Landing. She doesn’t know if her father was receiving his dialysis treatments in jail, but said he never recovered after what happened there. He died in August 2019 – a direct result, she says, of what happened at the jail.
- Walter Klein, 55, was arrested in January 2018 on a driving while intoxicated charge. Klein — the subject of the Landing's investigation — was given a personal bond and was waiting to be processed out of the jail when he had a heart attack in a holding cell and was transported to the hospital. The Harris County Sheriff's Office then released him from custody. He died 16 days later.