HOUSTON - Call it a declaration of "war" by more than 3,000 Harris County Deputies and Detention officers against the elected leaders with ultimate control over just how many tax dollars flow to law enforcement.
Within a 200-page federal class-action lawsuit against Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioners, and the Sheriff, dozens of detention officer's offered eye-witness testimony of dangerously under-manned county jail with more than 6,000 inmate-on-inmate assaults and close to a thousand attacks on jailers.
"We have countless stories of employees who have been assaulted by inmates because there is not enough staff for them to go as pairs into pods and inmates know that and they jump these detention officers and send them to the hospital," said Robin Foster, HCDO attorney.
And then there's the ongoing epidemic of drug abuse inside the jail. With too few officers to interdict contraband, the facility reportedly reeks of smuggled synthetic marijuana and intoxicants concocted from cleaning fluid.
"There's a drug epidemic in the jail and you have inmates overdosing and being sent to the clinic," said Cuevas. "I think in the last few months there have been three inmate deaths due to overdosing in the jail."
"You can find more knives and shanks at the jail than you can at the local Academy goods store," he continued. "That's horrific! Harris County needs to step up, take a hard look at themselves and quit being the cowards of the county."
In a scathing complaint to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the deputies' union alleges more than a dozen ongoing violations including failure to count inmates daily, failure to interdict dangerous contraband, failure to protect the safety of detention officers, and deliberately lying to the state in regard to minimum staffing levels.
The emerging crisis has drawn the rapt attention of State Senator John Whitmire who is calling for an aggressive TCJS investigation.
"I would advise Commissioners before you lose control of your jail to the federal government and the federal courts you need to act," warned Whitmire.
"It's a state-created safety hazard. They could have avoided this," said David Batton, attorney for the HCDO. "They can avoid this and they don't. It’s an oppressive atmosphere that has put our people in danger, that has put these inmates in danger."
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez issued a statement in regard to the litigation.
"The strain placed by the ongoing pandemic on the Harris County criminal justice system, as well as our public health system and other local government functions, has been unyielding and unprecedented. I am grateful to all our teammates for consistently performing their duties under the toughest circumstances we’ve ever experienced. Everyone with a stake in ensuring Harris County public safety recognizes that our current trajectory is unsustainable.
"We all understand we must do more to reduce violent crime, address the backlog of cases in our courts, and improve the working conditions of our dedicated public servants. As sheriff, I am committed to working with all partners on solutions that keep us safe."