HOUSTON - After an inmate sexually assaulted a female sergeant inside Harris County jail on Monday, many people are raising concerns about the conditions inside the facility.
How did this happen? And what’s being done to secure the jail?
"I've felt so many different feelings over the course of these last two days from anger, to being sick, heartbroken," said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez during a press conference Wednesday morning. "We’re going to do everything we can to make this better, to make sure our facility is safe for our team members."
Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies say the beating and sexual assault of the sergeant inside the Baker Street jail highlights the desperate need for more staff at the jail.
STAFFING SHORTAGE AT HARRIS COUNTY JAIL
Sheriff Gonzalez confirmed that. He says, though all the jobs are filled, the jail needs 550 to 700 new employees.
The Harris County Jail is the largest jail in Texas and third largest in the nation.
"We should have enough personnel to make sure that not only are our staff safe but other inmates are safe. This goes along with the lawsuit we filed back in September. Everything that’s been outlined in the lawsuit is now coming to fruition," said David Cuevas President of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization.
Cuevas is referring to the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the Harris County Deputies' Organization against Harris County leadership about being understaffed and overworked.
"It’s unfortunate we’re in that position, but that’s what it is. All the assaultive behaviors from inmates on staff, over 6,000 inmate-on-inmate fights. We are not able to maintain security of the facility and we’re not able to maintain security for our personnel as we’ve seen with this brutal attack that happened on one of our sergeants, one of our sisters," says Cuevas. "We’ve heard from our detention staff. They’ve called our union, crying, upset, shaken; and it’s rang loud and clear to us. They need help and nobody’s listening. We need Commissioners Court to do their damn job, provide us the resources, the funding."
Just last month, county commissioners approved the hiring of 100 jail workers but the hundreds more Sheriff Gonzalez says they need can’t be hired until the sheriff’s office gets the green light from the commissioners.
"We have been exploring the possibility of having to outsource again. We may have to consider out of state housing for some as a means to continue to aggressively attack this until we can bring staffing to the point that it needs to be," says the sheriff.
Despite the shortage, Sheriff Gonzalez says they are still meeting the minimum state requirement of one worker for every 48 inmates. He added that on Monday when that veteran deputy was violently attacked there was one employee for every 42 inmates.
Plus, the sheriff pointed out, the jail is listed as non-compliant right now after an inspection by the Texas Jail Commission that happened before the attack found problems with deputies missing observational rounds, cleanliness/sanitation and general staffing.
The sheriff says they’re working on a corrective plan.
STEEP NUMBER OF HIGH-RISK INMATES
Sheriff Gonzalez admits there are a number of issues at the County Jail that could have played a part in Monday's attack, including the jail operating at exceedingly high capacity, with more than 6,000 of the inmates considered high risk.
"We’re seeing probably the highest numbers of serious offenders that we’ve ever had," the sheriff said.
In fact, Sheriff Gonzalez says there are 8,800 high and medium-risk inmates in the Harris County Jail right now.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic caused a slowdown in the courts, inmates are staying longer.
"Keep in mind, these are pre-trial individuals hovering around 200 days. On average around the state, it’s about 60 days. County jails are not meant to be long-term stays."
Jeremiah Williams has actually been there longer.
WHY IS JEREMIAH WILLIAMS IN HARRIS COUNTY JAIL & FOR HOW LONG?
Williams, who is charged with aggravated sexual assault in the sergeant's brutal attack, has been in the Harris County Jail since September 2020.
He's been locked up for more than a year after attacking female joggers in a Northwest Houston park.
According to court records, Williams punched one jogger in the head and face until he knocked her to the ground where he straddled her and continued punching her in the face with both fists.
The documents also say Williams asked the woman if she’s married and if he could live with her. He then sexually assaulted her and demanded she look at his face while he assaulted her, the court records show. The victim was left with black eyes, a bloody nose and injuries to her head.
Just 20 minutes later, detectives say Williams tackled a second jogger in the same park, pushing her to the ground, groping her. Then he put his hand over her nose and mouth, suffocating her.
Officers say as Williams tried to take off her pants he heard a noise nearby and ran away. According to court records, Williams confessed to smoking marijuana on the trail in the park and then attacking the women.
HOW DID JEREMIAH WILLIAMS GET TO THE HARRIS COUNTY SERGEANT?
On Monday, while still locked away in jail, detectives say Williams brutally beat and sexually assaulted the veteran Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy.
"We have, in my opinion, this is my own opinion, just a bad actor that took advantage of an opening," Sheriff Gonzalez said. "[He] saw perhaps a gap in the system and manipulated that to his advantage."
The sheriff says Williams had gone to a jail Bible study class, left early and went to the sergeant’s office and attacked her.
"What kind of church was he going to? Because right now, we hope he goes to hell," says Cuevas.
The attack happened on the same floor where Williams is housed. The sheriff says that perhaps is why Williams, who is considered a high-risk inmate, wasn’t being escorted.
"This is such a dangerous person. We don’t want him in the community. Harris County deserves to be protected from somebody like this. Honestly, the staff in the jail deserves to be protected from somebody like this. He is so dangerous," says prosecutor Jamie Burro.
In court Wednesday, Williams' bond was raised to $3.5 million. He’s now in solitary confinement in the jail as the sheriff’s office investigates why a high-risk offender, who is supposed to be escorted at all times, was walking around the jail without being accompanied by a deputy.