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Jailhouse woes for the Sheriff

Been a bad couple of weeks for Sheriff Garcia.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

A year and a half after a mentally ill inmate was found festering in squalor in a Harris County jail cell – apparently for weeks – Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Friday fired six jailers and suspended 29 others, the largest disciplinary action within the department in recent memory.

The county’s top lawman also said his second-in-command, Chief Deputy Fred Brown, would be resigning at the end of April, and a major in charge of inmate housing had been removed from her command and demoted.

The action comes three weeks after a grand jury indicted two detention officer sergeants in the case involving Terry Goodwin, the mentally ill inmate found in his cell in the fall of 2013 surrounded by bug-infested food containers, a feces-clogged toilet and ropes from his shredded jail uniform hanging from the ceiling.

“Disciplining employees is never pleasurable,” Garcia said, flanked by several subordinates at a news conference at the sheriff’s headquarters at 1200 Baker St. “But the reality is, when employees fail to take action when action is necessary, and when it results in conditions no inmate should be subjected to, this discipline is called for.”

Longtime sheriff’s office observers took note of the severity and the breadth of the punishment.

“I’ve never seen this much punishment handed down over a single incident. It’s unprecedented,” said Robert “Bob” Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, and a 24-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. In 2012, Garcia fired half a dozen jailers – both deputies and civilian detention officers – after allegations the year before of sexual misconduct between jail staff and other employees, as well as between jailers and inmates.

[…]

Garcia dodged a question about whether the scandal had impacted or delayed the expected announcement he’d be running for mayor.

He sought to mitigate criticism by pointing to the scale of the challenge of the job his jailers deal with and noting the steps the jail had made to prevent similar incidents. Garcia said the jail processes about 120,000 bookings a year, with a daily population of about 8,600 inmates, more than a quarter of whom receive medication for mental illnesses.

“In spite of the challenges we face in an operation of this size, my staff does a great job,” he said.

There was also a story about a no-bid contract in the news this week. The conventional wisdom, at least among those who talk about this sort of thing, is that these stories have delayed his expected Mayoral announcement, since of course he’d like to have this stuff in the rear view mirror before launching a campaign. That’s not the only possible explanation – one theory holds that he’s waiting to announce because the longer he delays the lower the expectations will be for his July fundraising totals. You can make up your own mind about this.

The question is what effect this may have on his chances in the Mayoral race, since everything comes down to the Mayoral race these days. PDiddie, who is not a supporter of the Sheriff’s, and Campos, who’s on Bill King’s team, both think this is detrimental to him. I wouldn’t argue any of this helps, but I seriously doubt it means much now. Most people – for better or worse – just don’t pay that much attention to this stuff, and those that are paying attention are either already aligned with a particular candidate or who are political junkies like me who may not be sure who they are voting for but who have a pretty good idea who they’re not voting for. I don’t think any of this has changed anyone’s vote, is what I’m saying.

To be sure, this will be ammunition to be used against the Sheriff later on, assuming he does in fact still run. In a campaign with seven viable candidates, where “viable” means “should have enough resources to mount at least an adequate voter outreach campaign”, the most important thing these guys have to do is introduce themselves to the voters. Attacking another candidate in communications to the voters is at best a secondary consideration, especially given that the main beneficiaries of such attacks in multi-candidate races are the ones who stay out of them. Recent problems with the jail are certainly an issue and the other candidates can and will take advantage of it where they can, but I don’t think it becomes a main feature of the race until a runoff, if the Sheriff makes it that far. Even in a runoff, negative campaigning his its risks. When you consider the buzz Adrian Garcia will get for his potential to be Houston’s first Latino Mayor, direct attacks against him may help to galvanize the kind of voters he’ll need to win in a runoff. We just don’t know yet how this will play out, and in my view anyone who says otherwise is overstating things.

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4 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    I don’t think any of this has changed anyone’s vote, is what I’m saying.

    I don’t think that’s accurate, but my thought is just as subjective as yours. Absent the absolutism of “any” and “anyone”, that is. ‘Some of this is bound to have changed someone’s vote’ has a significantly higher degree of mathematical probability. Whether the number of changed votes is significant is another topic, perhaps closer to accurate.

    “I don’t think any of this has changed anyone’s mind to vote for Adrian Garcia.” There. Fixed.

    Sheriff Garcia perhaps shouldn’t be considering running for mayor, for a few reasons long before these recent developments. There’s simply too much downside risk for him personally, and for local Democrats generally. But if Tony Buzbee is still advising him…

  2. Manuel Barrera says:

    They all have skeletons in their closets.

    It does make sense for him to run, but his name there will stop Costello from possibly making a run off. Too many Latinos think Costello is Hispanic, he does very well in those precincts that are majority Hispanic.

  3. Mainstream says:

    It is about to be too late for Sheriff Garcia to enter the mayoral contest, if it is not already so. Opinion leaders, consultants, other elected officials are already making their choices.

  4. Manuel Barrera says:

    Correction does not make sense for Garcia to run at this time, or even before.