Family of fatally injured special needs inmate demand jail funding, reform

"Care, custody and control."It is the essential mission of Harris County in regard to those incarcerated in the nation's third-largest jail.


And yet in what is being labeled an "epic, systemic failure",19-year-old, intellectually challenged inmate Fred Harris was stabbed and beaten "brain dead" by a fellow inmate nearly two and half times his size.

"240 pounds with a knife, extremely violent (versus) 98 pounds with special needs," said Randall Kallinen, attorney representing Harris' family.

After his arrest for brandishing a knife at a group home for folks with special needs, Fred's Mother was assured the welfare of her son with an IQ of 62 would be protected.  

"When I left they said my son would be okay and they would handle this and so we are here now a couple days later and this wasn't handled," said Dallas Garcia Harris, Fred's mother.

Fred Harris' family is pointing a collective finger of blame at Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and all five members of Commissioners Court for chronically understaffing and underfunding the jail.

"I'd like to tell them this is their doing. This is their fault. They did this to my son, that's what I'd like to tell them. They helped commit the murder of my son," said Garcia Harris.

On September 19th FOX 26 was the first to report a class-action federal lawsuit lodged by the Harris County Deputies Organization against County leaders alleging chronic understaffing and underfunding of the jail - the starvation of resources which they say has triggered 6,000 inmate-on-inmate assaults and close to 1000 attacks on guards in 2021 alone. 

MORE: 'They could have avoided this,' Deputies seek federal takeover of Harris County Jail

Deputies' Organization attorney Dave Batton says County leaders have been aware of the life-threatening jail conditions for many months and done nothing.

"We've been warning them. We've been trying to talk to them. We've been telling them. They are not listening. They don't care," said Batton.

"We need more guards. We need more staff so that fights can be stopped, fights can be prevented, people can be separated," said Kallinen.

Kallinen says Harris is being maintained on life support so that his organs can be harvested for those in need.

FOX 26 has sought comment from Sheriff Gonzalez and all five members of Harris County Commissioners Court.


"Mr. Harris’ death is a tragedy and adds to the increasing number of lives taken violently in every corner of our society this year. We are determined to ensure that his killer faces justice, and we extend our condolences to Mr. Harris’ family," said Gonzalez.  

"My heart goes out to Mr. Harris and his family in these very difficult times. I pray they find strength and comfort as we all work through this tragedy and work to prevent this from happening again. Commissioners Court is investing resources to address jail operations, but we all realize there is still much work to be done.," said Rodney Ellis, Harris County Commissioner Pct. 1.  

"I am deeply saddened by the news of Fred Harris, and extend my condolences to his family. I share the same concerns as the Harris family, and will continue to support our law enforcement agencies so that they have the resources to do their job safely and effectively," said Tom Ramsey, Harris County Commissioner Pct 3.

"As the former Sheriff, Commissioner Garcia understands the complexities of overseeing the jail. That’s why, since being elected as Commissioner, he’s advocated for more funding to operate the jail. That has amounted to an increase of $36.5 million for detention and an additional $12.5 million for medical services from 2019 to this year. However, due to an unrelated, yet ongoing lawsuit regarding the jail, he’s unable to give additional comment at this time," said Scott Spiegel, spokesperson for Adrian Garcia, Harris County Commissioner Pct 2.

"I have long been a supporter of ensuring that our law-enforcement agencies have adequate resources to ensure their safety, the public’s safety, and the safety of those in custody. The tragedy of the death of Fred Harris, at 98 pounds, at the hands of another inmate, at 240 pounds, breaks the heart of anyone who hears the tale. The sheriff’s office is responsible for bringing requests to Commissioners Court, and for informing the Commissioners Court of how the office can be adequately funded to fulfill its mission of protecting the public and safeguarding those who are within their custody. This tragedy is doubly poignant in that Harris County is currently dealing with a lawsuit from the sheriff’s deputies union showing that the deputies have been inadequately funded to do their jobs appropriately in the jail," said Jack Cagle. Harris County Commissioner Pct. 4