A 25-year-old man died Wednesday while in custody of the Harris County Jail, the 11th reported death of a person held in the facility this year.

David Gardner died after a jail officer delivering lunch found him unconscious in his cell at about 10:30 a.m., said the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail. Another guard performed CPR while they awaited emergency medical services. Gardner was pronounced dead at St. Joseph Medical Center at 11:45 a.m.

Gardner’s cause of death is pending an autopsy. The Texas Rangers are investigating the death, as required by state law.

Sheriff’s officials said they found evidence of the “possible presence of narcotics” in Gardner’s cell, though they have not provided any additional details or official documentation to validate the claim. 

In a community message, sheriff’s officials said they have seen an “increase in drug-related medical emergencies” at the jail, prompting increased inspections and more investigations.

“It’s my job to make sure these people feel safe and secure, and that means ridding the jail of illegal contraband no matter the source,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in the message. 

Gardner had been held in jail pretrial on a murder charge since May 2020. He was accused of fatally shooting Ignacio Alberto Perez Cruz during a robbery. 

Deaths in the jail have prompted a growing outcry among community members, legislators and state regulators. Twenty-seven people died in jail custody last year, according to the county’s official statistics, and 21 died in 2021.

Relatives of nine people who died in the jail and 13 formerly and currently incarcerated people sued Harris County on Monday, alleging violations of their constitutional rights in a facility they described as a “place of torment and punishment.” They are represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has handled numerous cases involving allegations of law enforcement abuses.

At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, families alleged that jail staff failed to save lives and administer proper medical care to those in distress.

At least 52 lawsuits have been filed in local and federal courts in the last 10 years over jail conditions, according to a Houston Landing review of such cases.

One week ago, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards admonished the Sheriff’s Office for remaining non-compliant with state safety standards, noting that the jail will face “escalated and enhanced enforcement.” The TCJS first cited the jail in September 2022.

Gardner had been repeatedly flagged by court officials as potentially mentally ill. Six of the 11 people who have died in the jail this year had been identified as having potential mental health concerns, the Houston Landing has found.

Staff writer Alex Stuckey contributed to this report.

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Eileen Grench covers public safety for the Houston Landing, where two of her primary areas of focus will be the Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Office. She is returning to local...