This story is the second in a broader series, “Deadly Detention,” investigating jails across Texas. You can read the first story here.

DALLAS – Sierra Davis straddled a bench on the banks of White Rock Lake, her body braced against the wind as she scrawled words across a Happy Birthday balloon with her right hand – her left wiping tears from her eyes.

It was a beautiful May day, and it felt as if all of Dallas had come out to enjoy the sunshine. Children were screeching with glee, families were laughing, dogs were barking playfully at the ducks. But all that joy was interrupted by the wails coming from Sierra’s Great Aunt Brenda Lewis, sitting at the other end of the bench. 

“I know God got him. But Lord, I miss him!” Brenda sobbed, her body hunched over in sorrow. “But I want to just say Happy Birthday! And Lord, be with his family Jesus! And Lord let them have closure!”

Shamond Lewis – Sierra’s older brother, Brenda’s great nephew – should have been huddled around the picnic table eating breakfast tacos with his family, celebrating his 25th birthday. 

But Shamond died in September in Dallas County Jail custody – one of 38 people who died of unnatural causes in the custody of county and municipal jails across the state in 2022 who had previously exhibited mental health symptoms that were documented by court, jail or law enforcement personnel.

  • A person writes on a balloon.

Despite efforts statewide to develop programs and services that would divert people with mental illnesses away from jails and into mental health care, a review of thousands of public records shows the death toll of inmates with documented mental health concerns in Texas is far higher than a decade ago.

A Houston Landing investigation found that the number of people flagged as mentally ill who died of unnatural causes in the custody of Texas’ jails in 2022 had increased nearly 1,200 percent since 2012, from three deaths to 38 last year. 

In fact, more than half of the 68 people who died of unnatural causes in jail custody across the state last year had been identified as mentally ill at least once since the 1980s, the Landing found.

Krish Gundu, executive director of the Texas Jail Project – a nonprofit that advocates for people in county jails – called the Landing’s findings “deeply disturbing.”

The findings “open up a whole other Pandora’s box of questions as to why these people ended up in county jails,” Gundu said. “As a state, we are still not asking ourselves the hard questions as to why we are in this mess today and how we got here. And unless we do, we will keep wasting funds in the wrong end of the system … instead of investing in front end, upstream, preventive solutions.”

READ MORE: Search our data: 193 inmates with mental illnesses died in Texas jails

Twenty years ago, community mental health centers in Texas suffered a $101 million cut that decimated the services meant to keep people in their communities and out of institutions while still receiving psychiatric care. 

That same year, lawmakers shrank the pool of people who could receive care through local mental health authorities, but made it easier for a defendant’s competency to be evaluated.

Texans began struggling to get care in their community and wound up in crisis, filling state-funded psychiatric hospitals to capacity. 

With those hospitals full, mentally ill Texans ended up in emergency rooms and jails – both of which became overwhelmed.

Officials have taken steps to improve the identification of inmates with mental illnesses in recent years. In 2017, lawmakers passed the Sandra Bland Act, which revised the jail intake screening process to better identify mental illness. Sandra Bland, 28, hung herself in 2015 at the Waller County Jail. She wrote in her suicide screening form that she had previously attempted suicide and was depressed. 

The law also mandated diversion of people with mental health issues to treatment and made it easier for mentally ill or intellectual or developmentally disabled defendants to be released on a personal bond.

Shamond’s death, which came after he refused to change into the jail uniform and was put in restraints by detention officers, shows how someone can fall through the cracks despite repeatedly being identified as mentally ill by the appropriate systems.

Woman looks at family photos
Sierra Davis, 19, looks longingly at photos of she and her brother, Shamond Lewis, at her Great Aunt Rose’s apartment in March. These photos — and the green shirt she’s wearing memorializing her older brother’s life — are all she has left of him after he died in the custody of the Dallas County Jail in September. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

And the story of his short life shows how this tragedy can happen to any family.

As a child, Shamond loved riding horses, reading books and cooking meals for his siblings. But then he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his teens and everything changed.

Photo of a child
Shamond Lewis’ sister, Shelby, holds a photo of him as a child. Before he was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, Shamond was a happy kid who loved to read, excelled at math and was always watching out for his two sisters. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

He became paranoid and erratic. He started getting in trouble with the law. 

In his last years, Shamond started getting back on track – he was taking his medication and was even living on his own. 

But in September, he was arrested during a psychotic break and placed on suicide watch at the Dallas County Jail. When he refused to change into the attire that marks a Dallas County inmate, jail staff restrained him and changed his clothes for him. 

Shamond lost consciousness. He died a week later.

In February, Sophia Lewis, Shamond’s mom, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county, Sheriff Adam Infante and his department, as well as the five detention officers allegedly involved in restraining Shamond. In the suit, she argues that the defendants failed to implement policies to uphold her son’s constitutional right to medical treatment and his right to not be beaten and physically abused.

Even though Shamond’s mental illness was well documented by officials, the suit states, “when he became irritated when he was asked to change into jail attire — defendants ignored those signs and failed to provide appropriate mental health and medical care.”

READ MORE: Search our database of jail lawsuits and download the raw data

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on this story because of the ongoing litigation. The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating Shamond’s death, also declined to comment because its investigation is ongoing.

Woman walks to lake with balloons
Sophia Lewis, 42, walks to the edge of White Rock Lake in Dallas, holding a bundle of birthday balloons for her son, Shamond, in May. White Rock Lake was one of Shamond’s favorite places, where he and mother spent countless hours walking the family’s dog, Bella. After Shamond died in the custody of the Dallas County Jail in September, Sophia knew they had to celebrate his 25th birthday at this very lake. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

It’s been seven months since Shamond died. His mom, Sophia Lewis, still can’t believe she ended up here – at her son’s favorite lake, honoring the birthday of a boy who will never age past 24. 

Sophia looked around at her family – her eldest daughter, Sierra, gripping the sides of her balloon so tightly her fingers left indents; her youngest daughter, Shelby, staring out at the lake; her brother, Fred, swiping a finger beneath his shades to dry a tear when he thought no one was looking – and her heart felt as if it was shattering into a thousand pieces. 

Instead of celebrating his birthday at a club like Shamond wanted, his family was preparing to release birthday notes scribbled on mylar balloons, hoping they reached him in the heavens.

Shamond’s Great Aunt Brenda did not stop begging God for help – not even to scribble him a note on a balloon. 

Her words were barely intelligible through her sobs as she looked up at the cloudless sky. 

“I’m sorry the murder happened to you, baby!” Brenda screamed. “I’m sorry, baby! But it’s gonna be alright after a while.”

Shamond’s mom and sisters, cousins and aunts, uncle and family friends walked closer to the lake where Shamond and Sophia had walked the family dog, Bella, countless times.

On the count of three, they looked upward, their fingers loosening on the ribbons attached to the balloons. 

“Happy Birthday Shamond!” They said in unison, balloons rising up above them. 

DeSoto, Texas, 25 minutes south of Dallas

  • Practicing rodeo

The spotted Appaloosa whinnied and snorted as Shamond approached his stall, scraping at the hay-covered ground with his hoof.

Shamond, 14, dusted off his jeans and gently wrapped his arms around the horse’s long, slender nose.

“I’m here buddy, I’m here. You ready?”

Shamond had spent the day riding the roping horses owned by his uncle, Matthew Johnson.

But this horse, aptly nicknamed “Crazy” because he was so uncontrollable, was Shamond’s favorite.

Shamond dreamed of riding in the Texas Black Invitational Rodeo. He wanted to rope calves from atop a steady horse. He practiced with his uncle as often as he could.

But Crazy was too rambunctious for roping. 

And Shamond loved Crazy. 

Something about Shamond brought out a calm side of Crazy – one Matthew had never seen anyone elicit. 

But then, Shamond was a natural with horses. It made sense that Crazy listened to him.

Shamond attached a lead to Crazy’s halter and walked him out of the dusty barn.

The sun was starting to set. After a long day, it was finally time to take Crazy for a ride.

Sophia’s apartment
Dallas, Texas

Sierra tiptoed into her mom’s bedroom, careful not to step on any creaky floor boards or let in too much light through the cracked door. 

Sierra was on a mission: extract the keys to the family’s silver Ford Escape from Sophia’s dresser without being caught. 

It was 10 p.m. and well past Sophia’s three kids’ bedtime. But Sierra, 11, and Shelby, 9, were hungry – the kind of hungry that could only be satiated by an extra-large Walmart Marketside pepperoni pizza. 

Sierra and Shelby barely had to ask Shamond, 17, for help. Ever the big brother, he hatched a plan to sneak out of the house, drive to Walmart and take care of his sisters’ needs. 

And that meant Sierra – the slightest of the three – had to sneak into mom’s room. 

Sierra reached Sophia’s dresser, glancing quickly toward the bed to make sure her mom didn’t stir, and swiped the keys. 

She raced out of the room, quietly shut the door and jingled the keys triumphantly in front of Shamond. 

“Yes, sis!” he said.

They left Shelby as lookout and drove, giddy, to Walmart.

Sitting on the couch an hour later, watching a movie and taking huge, cheesy bites of greasy pizza, Sierra couldn’t help but grin at her big brother. 

He always took care of her – whether that meant sneaking out for a late-night snack or helping with her math homework – and she knew he always would.

Summer 2017
Sophia’s apartment
Coppell, Texas, 40 minutes northwest of Dallas

Sophia’s stomach did somersaults when she saw the name of her youngest daughter, Shelby, flash across the lock screen of her cellphone. 

Sophia was working in health care customer service at a company in Irving and Shelby knew that. The 11-year-old rarely called in the middle of the day. 

“Muffin, what’s wrong?” Sophia asked, trying to tamp down her nerves. 

Sophia heard shouting in the background. Her eldest daughter, Sierra, sounded panicked. 

Shamond, 19, sounded crazed:

“They’re coming to get us! They’re coming to get us!”

“Muffin,” Sophia repeated, trying to keep her composure. “Talk to me.”

“Something’s wrong with Mond,” Shelby said.

IMPACT: Lina Hidalgo pledges funds for jail program, citing investigation by Houston Landing

Sophia raced the 20 minutes home from her office in Irving.

Nothing could have prepared her for what she found.

Shamond had sliced a giant “X” through the screen door of the family’s home.  

He was pacing back and forth in the yard, his eyes darted side to side as if to clock any and all threats.

He kept repeating that someone was after the family – that they were coming and coming soon. 

Sophia’s heart sank. She knew what this was. 

“Shelby. Call 911.”

Sophia’s mom, Joyce, had struggled her entire life with mental illness. She experienced bouts of paranoia and depression. She could be erratic and irrational. 

Sophia spent her childhood worrying that the unnamed illness would come for her. 

Instead, it had come for her son. 

March 22, 2018
Grandma Joyce’s house
Oak Cliff, a neighborhood in southwest Dallas, Texas
4 p.m.

Joyce Lewis clasped her hands in prayer, looking up at the sky and nodding thank you to God.

She had just gotten word that Shamond, her grandson, was found incompetent to stand trial for trespassing and possession of marijuana charges, meaning he was unable to understand and participate in his own defense.

Shamond, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia the year prior, was being referred to community-based treatment to restore his competency. He was going to get out of jail and get the help he needed.

Joyce Lewis and her grandson, Shamond Lewis. The two were incredibly close and Joyce was often the only person who could handle Shamond after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his teens. She understood him — she, too, struggled with mental illness. Photo courtesy of the family.

Joyce was relieved.

In January, Shamond was arrested for trespassing at a bank despite a previous warning to stay away.

While Shamond was being booked at the Dallas County Jail, officers found a plastic baggie of weed in his sock. He was charged with trespassing and possession of marijuana.

Since then, Joyce had worked with jail and court staff to alert them of his mental illness. She brought them documentation and told them about the family’s history. 

A psychiatric evaluation had been ordered in February, and today’s decision brought tears to her eyes. 

Joyce had been the only one in the family who could calm her grandson since his diagnosis – he had even lived with her for a time.

But if the family could get Shamond back on track, he might be able to live on his own. Joyce wouldn’t need to be there to calm his aggressive outbursts. 

It felt to everyone like a step in the right direction.

April 23, 2018
Baumgarten Drive
Dallas, Texas
12 a.m.

The trees lining Baumgarten Drive near Lakeland Hills Park stood like shadowy sentries in the early morning darkness.

Shamond had been at a home on this street since about 9 p.m. He wasn’t supposed to be there.

He was supposed to be at a boarding home 14 miles away. 

Shamond was released from jail last month to receive court-ordered psychiatric services and legal education in the community to restore his competency to stand trial.

But less than two weeks later he was caught with marijuana — again. 

The court ordered an electronic leg monitor, confining him to the boarding home unless he was expressly given permission to leave. 

But over the past six days, Shamond had repeatedly left the home without permission, his wanderings taking him up to 30 miles away. On one occasion, he’d been gone for the entire night, only returning in the early morning hours. 

“Mr. Lewis attended orientation for the (electronic leg monitor) program on 04/16/2018, and it was made very clear to him what the rules of the program were,” Julian Lapeyre, an Alternative Sentencing Program officer, wrote in a report to the court. “However, Mr. Lewis left his home the same day without any permission and went to several places.”

Shamond spent time at his great aunt’s apartment complex, Methodist Richardson Medical Center and a convenience store. He went to Soul for Christ Ministry, a nonprofit that provides housing and a food pantry to mentally ill and homeless residents. 

He went to CiCi’s Pizza, his mom’s apartment in Garland and a Walgreens in Mesquite.

Today, Shamond had been gone from the boarding home since about 3 p.m. It was now midnight and the cops had been called.

Police took him to Medical City Green Oaks Hospital, a 124-bed private psychiatric facility in Dallas.

Summer 2018
Terrell State Hospital
Terrell, Texas
7 p.m.

Sophia sat at a table in Terrell State Hospital’s cafeteria, a plastic bag full of Boston Market rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes and cornbread sweating on the bench beside her.

The conversations of other visitors hummed around her as she anxiously stared at the door, waiting for Shamond to walk out and greet her. 

After months of waiting, Shamond had finally been transferred to one of Texas’ 10 publicly funded psychiatric hospitals for care.

But she was exhausted. She had just finished her shift and had raced over to Terrell from Irving, an hour’s drive without traffic.

Sophia was grateful that Shamond was getting help. But Terrell only allowed visitors during limited periods of time. It had been a struggle to fit into her schedule with a full-time job and two girls at home. Officials with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the states’ 10 publicly funded psychiatric hospitals, said they could not confirm Shamond had been a patient. 

At her hip, next to their dinner, were quarters for the vending machine and extra T-shirts – all things that Shamond had asked her to bring. 

As she impatiently drummed her fingers on the table in front of her, she caught a glimpse of Shamond’s lean build and long locs. 

He spotted his mom. A huge grin spread across his face.

Shamond enveloped his mom in a bear hug, squeezing her tight. 

He told her about his treatment and the educational classes he was attending; about the people he was interacting with.

It had been years since Sophia had seen Shamond so clear headed.

My son is back, she thought.

But as they reached the end of the visiting hour, Shamond whispered to his mom:

“Please don’t leave me here.” 

“It’s like being in jail.”

Feb. 14, 2020
Great Aunt Rose’s apartment
Dallas, Texas
11 p.m.

  • A family gathers in a livingroom

Rose Lewis could feel her anger bubbling up as she spied Shamond through her window. 

He was sitting outside her apartment door – even though she had repeatedly told him to leave.

“Shamond you gotta leave!” Rose, 57, shouted at her great nephew through the blinds. “I ain’t gonna tell you again!”

Shamond was off his medication and had been living on Rose’s couch for about six months. 

But Rose had had enough of Shamond’s antics – and she was getting scared. 

His violent outbursts and erratic behavior were too much. So that night, she had kicked him out. 

And he just wouldn’t leave.

It broke Rose’s heart to see Shamond – who she’d called “Baby Boy” since he popped out of his mama at 10 pounds (the size of a boy but still a baby) – sitting outside in the cold without anywhere to go. 

But she couldn’t do it anymore.

She opened her apartment door.

“Come back when you get yourself right!” 

She turned her back to Shamond, walking back into her apartment. 

Shamond grabbed her and threw her on the ground.  

The screaming was so loud, Rose’s neighbor could hear it through her walls. When Rose knocked on that neighbor’s door for help, she heard Shamond screaming: 

“Get away from that door, Imma kill this b—-.”

Rose’s neighbor called the cops. 

Shamond was arrested for assault and taken to the Dallas County Jail.

Eight months later, in October, he would again be arrested for assault and given a trespass warning after breaking into a home near Everglade Park and getting into a fight with the residents. 

Court officials didn’t question Shamond’s mental health in either of these cases.

Jan. 3, 2021
Aunt LaKeisha’s home
Mesquite, Texas, 20 minutes east of Dallas

Joyce lay completely still on the couch at Sophia’s sister’s house, none of the tell-tale signs of life visible on her body. 

Her chest wasn’t moving up and down with breath. Her pulse wasn’t throbbing in her wrists or her neck. 

Still, Shamond touched her as if expecting her to respond. He leaned down close to her face and examined her features. 

Sophia cried behind him – she hadn’t expected to lose her mother so soon. 

Joyce was only 60. She had asthma, but wasn’t sick. Today, she laid down for a nap and and never woke up.

“She’s gone, Mond,” Sophia whispered softly. 

She worried how Shamond would react – worried that it would prompt another episode. 

She’d had Shamond so young, he was practically raised by his grandmother and had lived with her on and off throughout the years. 

“Mond?” Sophia whispered again.

Shamond didn’t respond. He turned to his mother and just stared, no emotions crossing his face.

Sept. 11, 2022
Sophia’s apartment
Garland, Texas, 35 minutes northeast of Dallas
7:20 p.m.

Sophia, Sierra and Shelby crowd around the television, watching Dallas Cowboys wide receiver KaVontae Turpin catch the kickoff from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and run it to the 14-yard line.

Shamond walked into the room, balancing a platter overflowing with barbeque — oxtails, burgers, even shrimp. 

He loved to cook — but barbecuing was his favorite. He couldn’t wait for crawfish-boil season to start up in January. 

Shelby Lewis and her brother, Shamond, celebrate her sweet 16. Shamond was incredibly close to both of his sisters. Photo courtesy of the family.

“Shamond, this looks good!” Shelby crowed. 

She and Sierra loved being on the receiving end of Shamond’s constant experiments with food. It made family gatherings so much more exciting.

As her three kids dug into huge helpings of Shamond’s creations, Sophia couldn’t help but smile. 

Shamond had been through so much in the past five years, but he was finally on track. 

He had been living in his own apartment for about a year. He was hanging out with his sisters more. 

He even called his Uncle Matthew and let him know he was ready to start riding horses again.

“Whenever you’re ready, nephew,” Matthew had said.

The previous month he had felt the darkness descending again, so he’d checked himself into a mental hospital for a week to get himself sorted. 

There was no paranoia or erratic behavior. No aggression. 

It felt like Sophia’s family was finally whole again. 

By the time the game was over and Shamond was headed back to his apartment, they were making plans for a family barbecue in a few weeks. 

“I’ll see you then, Ma,” Shamond said.

Sept. 22, 2022
St. Thomas Place Apartments
Dallas, Texas
10 a.m.

Sophia stood next to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office patrol car parked in front of Shamond’s apartment complex, speaking through its partially open window to her son handcuffed in the back seat.

Shamond seemed calm. But she could see in his eyes that schizophrenia’s darkness and paranoia had descended over him – again.

“You alright, son?” Sophia asked. 

“I’m good, Ma. I’m good.” he reassured her.

Sophia wasn’t sure.  

An hour earlier, Shamond had attacked a man leaving the corner store across the street — choking him and threatening him with a steak knife.

The man called 911 and flagged down a Dallas County Sheriff’s deputy, who detained Shamond until the city’s police department arrived. 

As they waited, Sophia couldn’t help but wonder:  

What could have set Mond off?

Shamond wasn’t taking his medication — but only because he’d struggled to get an appointment with his provider for another antipsychotic injection.

He’d been functioning well without.

Sophia told the officers her son was mentally ill. That he had been found incompetent by the Dallas County courts four years ago. 

Initially, officers discussed taking him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. They opted to take him to jail instead, charging him with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

As the patrol car drove away, Sophia realized what might have set Shamond off.

Today was his grandmother’s birthday.

Sept. 23, 2022
Dallas County Jail
Dallas, Texas
12:41 a.m.

Shamond Lewis spent just 12 hours in the Dallas County Jail (above) in September when he refused to change into a jail uniform and was restrained by detention officers. Shamond lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. He died a week later and his family still is fighting for answers. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

Shamond refused to change into jail attire. 

The 24-year-old had been in the Dallas County Jail for 12 hours — most of that time spent on suicide watch in an intake holding cell by himself.

Just before midnight, officers decided it was time to transfer Shamond to the jail’s housing unit. They walked him to the change-out room, where he would remove his civilian clothes and dress in the clothing that marks a Dallas County inmate. 

Video surveillance showed Shamond appearing to cooperate with officers as they led him there. But there was no video inside the room. 

Over the course of 12 minutes, Shamond refused to change into jail clothes, so multiple officers restrained him, placed him in handcuffs, stripped him of his clothes and dressed him. 

They placed him in a six-point soft restraint chair, which kept his arms, legs and torso bound to a seat. 

When the detention officers brought Shamond out of the room — in full view of the hallway cameras— he was breathing but seemed to be suffering from “acute mental” changes, the surveillance footage showed.

By the time he arrived at a medical unit to be assessed and given water, Shamond was unresponsive. 

He was taken by ambulance to Parkland Hospital.

No one called Sophia.

Sept. 26, 2022
Parkland Hospital
Dallas, Texas
1 p.m.

Hospital building
After Shamond Lewis was restrained by Dallas County Jail detention officers in September and lost consciousness, he was transported to Parkland Hospital (above) in Dallas and treated for his injuries. He died a week later. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

It looked to Sophia like Shamond had bitten his own tongue.

Bruises, contusions and quarter-sized scabs covered his legs, arms, shoulders and scrotum. His brain had swelled and herniated; his wrists scabbed over from the bite of the handcuffs. 

So much blood or infection had pooled in his arms, they had to be surgically drained.

Some of the injuries showed signs of healing and might have occurred before Shamond was jailed, an autopsy later concluded. Others appeared to be more recent. 

Sophia’s baby boy was on a ventilator. But the most horrifying part was that her son — for whom she had been told to start planning end of life care — was still chained to the hospital bed. 

Sophia stifled a sob. Shamond had been dying in this hospital bed for three days and she had no idea. No one had told her.

Shamond’s Great Aunt Brenda whispered in her ear:

“We gotta take pictures. This ain’t right.”

As Brenda snapped shots of Shamond’s broken body, Sophia demanded answers — from the sheriff’s deputies crowded in his hospital room; from the doctors; from God. 

“What happened to my baby boy?” she wailed. “Why didn’t nobody call me?!”

Fred took one look at his nephew — the boy he had grown up with, who was as much a son to him as to his mother — and started to scream. 

“Y’all done killed my nephew!”


Woman at a park
Sophia Lewis sits outside Dallas’ Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station in March. Her son, Shamond, used to love coming to this courtyard, where the fountain trickles softly, to read underneath the trees. Shamond died in September after being restrained at the Dallas County Jail and Sophia still grapples with his loss every day. So, she visits his favorite places, wears his clothes and stays up late at night wondering why this had to happen to her son. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

A breeze rustles through the trees in front of Dallas’ Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station, their interwoven branches dotted with pigeons cooing softly.

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon in March and the courtyard outside the terminal is deserted, save for one man sitting on a bench with his Chihuahua, staring off into the distance.

It’s exactly the kind of afternoon Shamond would have chosen — he loved nothing more than tucking into a bench in front of the fountain and reading a book.

But Sophia struggles to find that same peace — her eye constantly drawn to the hulking mass of the Dallas County Jail visible just beyond the terminal.

“I hate passing this place,” Sophia said, fiddling with the drawstring of her son’s Nike athletic pants. 

Since Shamond’s death in September, Sophia has been wearing her son’s clothes everywhere. Every time she sees a young Black man with locs, for a split second she thinks it’s Shamond.  

She rarely sleeps, the verbiage on his autopsy report glaring at her every time she closes her eyes.

“Manner of death: Undetermined.”

Undetermined? How can they say it was undetermined?

Shamond’s autopsy report, conducted by the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, cites several reasons for being unable to determine a cause of death. The lack of video surveillance during the actual restraint is a contributing factor, as is the video evidence showing Shamond responsive, though altered, afterward. 

The medical examiner also wrote in his report that finding only superficial injuries during the autopsy, along with the inability to conduct toxicology testing, led him to his manner of death determination. 

It’s not clear why discussions about taking Shamond to a psychiatric hospital in September didn’t come to fruition. Kristin Lowman, a spokeswoman for the Dallas Police Department, said that officers don’t have access to a person’s county court records at the time of arrest — so they wouldn’t be able to see if someone had been found incompetent to stand trial in the past.

Officers will take an individual to have their mental health evaluated if they witness that person being a danger to themselves, Lowman said, or if the arrestee tells officers they are going to harm themselves.

No mental health concerns were listed in Shamond’s police report from that day.

Even if the officers had chosen to take Shamond to a psychiatric hospital, there likely wouldn’t have been a place for him in a publicly funded one.

In 2018, Shamond spent time in Terrell State Hospital, a state-funded psychiatric hospital an hour east of Dallas. Even then, when the waitlist was only 608 people long, Shamond spent almost two months in jail waiting for a bed.

When he was arrested in September, that waitlist had climbed to 2,540, with the average wait times for a maximum security bed nearly two years and a minimum security bed about eight months.

Some Texas counties have diversion centers that offer an alternative to jail for individuals who are mentally ill. In Dallas County, a 16-bed facility, Dallas Deflects, opened the month Shamond was arrested. But the center, which is voluntary, is only for people picked up for low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors, such as trespassing.

Shamond was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony.  

Dallas County has a mental health public defender program, but Shamond died so soon after entering the jail, he hadn’t even been assigned a lawyer.

Shamond’s sisters, Shelby and Sierra, take every day one minute, one breath, at a time.

Shelby will be having fun with her friends when images of her brother’s battered body in that hospital bed cloud her vision – a waking nightmare she can only be dragged out of by friends and family screaming her name.

Sierra sometimes just stares at a photo of her big brother and sobs – it splits her in two, realizing that she’ll never be able to call him again, or sit at the table and talk to him again. 

“We never thought this would be us.”

Fred still can’t visit any place that was meaningful to his nephew. He purposely avoids driving through downtown so he doesn’t have to pass the jail. 

He’s cut his hours at work to part time — he just can’t see the point in working when he feels like the world is crumbling around him. 

One day, he hopes to fulfill he and Shamond’s dream of breaking and breeding horses for a living. 

Matthew sits on the rusted edge of a horse trailer at the DeSoto barn where he boards his horses, a Newport cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he worries a lariat rope – used for roping cows – between his fingers. 

He can’t stop thinking about Shamond’s excitement to get back on a horse. In the months before his death, it really seemed as if the old Shamond was emerging again. 

Sophia can’t help but think that it would have been better if Shamond had killed himself or had died in his sleep — that she might be able to move past a death like that. 

But for something so horrifying to happen to him in a cage — and for no one to take responsibility for it — that’s what she’ll never get over. 

Back at White Rock Lake, Sophia keeps her arm raised in the air long after she has released her balloon for Shamond.

She watches as the wind takes the balloons closer and closer to the clouds — as Sierra’s balloon got stuck in a nearby tree, followed by Shelby’s and then Rose’s.

It was as if Shamond wasn’t quite ready to leave his family in their time of grief.

The family waits in silence, staring at the trees and willing the balloons to free themselves.

Finally, the trees release their hold on first Rose’s and then Shelby’s. 

Sierra’s was the last – the words “Until we meet again” glinted in the sun until the balloons disappeared from view.

How we did this story

To reconstruct what happened to Shamond Lewis before he died in the custody of the Dallas County Jail, the Houston Landing’s Alex Stuckey spent months reviewing court documents, police reports, custodial death reports and medical records obtained through the family and open records requests. 

Alex and Marie D. De Jesús, the Landing’s director of photography, visited Shamond’s favorite places in the city, the location of his last arrest and one of the last mental health facilities he visited. They interviewed Shamond’s family members and friends and, whenever possible, verified accounts with documents. Direct quotes used in this story came from recollections of individuals, police reports, court documents and autopsy reports. Italics signify a person recalling their thoughts.

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Alex Stuckey is an investigative reporter for the Houston Landing. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Prize and 2022 Livingston Award winner. In 2022, she received the Charles E. Green Award for Star Reporter of the...

Marie D. De Jesús is the director of photography for the Houston Landing. She was previously a staff photojournalist for the Houston Chronicle, where she concentrated on developing relationships with...