Treated “Like Animals”
On particularly quiet days downtown, the muffled moans and screams of imprisoned men and women can be heard through the streets. When the cries aren’t drowned out by revelers on their way to the nearby restaurants and bars, the echoes reach the county courthouse, Tim Curry Justice Center, and Tarrant County Administration Building.
As part of my recent profile of Texas Jail Project (“Humanizing Life Behind Bars,” Aug. 4), I requested copies of complaints filed against Tarrant County Jail, the 5,000-inmate-capacity building that, like other county jails, is designed to process and release men and women who have been arrested for Class B Misdemeanors and higher and to hold individuals who are deemed a public danger.
Increasingly, and largely due to monetary bail policies and the general apathy of Tarrant County’s criminal justice and political systems, the county jail is depriving impoverished detainees of their due freedoms and Constitutional right to a speedy and public trial. The nonprofit Texas Jail Project is working to humanize the plight of jailed folks who were arrested due to over-policing of Black and brown communities, unpaid traffic fines, mental health crises, homelessness, and other nonviolent “offenses” that disproportionately target the poor.
My request to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) was answered with 383 pages of typed, emailed, and handwritten letters that date back three years (the chosen scope of my request). Several complaints refer to the Lon Evans Corrections Center, the newer building (2012) that neighbors the county jail and houses high security detention units and an infirmary.
The communications describe one man who was allegedly beaten nearly to death by jail guards. His subsequent call from the hospital to a Texas Jail Project director was a desperate plea to not be returned to his would-be killers. Another member of the county jail population sought to alert TCJS that his friend had slit his wrists as a means of escaping torment and sexual harassment by a Tarrant County jailer. Other emails document mothers and wives who reported atrocities committed against their loved ones and several examples of prisoner neglect as COVID-19 swept through the facility.
One grieving loved one reminded the sheriff’s department that animals are treated more humanely than the men and women who can go years without seeing the sun within the concrete and metal walls of Tarrant County Jail. As one Texas Jail Project staffer told me, the treatment of Tarrant County Jail’s population can’t simply be blamed on the jailers. The systems that funnel these people into 100 N. Lamar St., the staffer said, include “court systems, prosecutors, judges, and poverty.”
The names in the following accounts have been replaced with the first letter of each person’s last name. The local sheriff’s department did not respond to requests for comment.
Inmate Grievance Form:
On 12/27/20, inmate [redacted] started cutting his wrist … after an officer on intercom sexually harassed him by telling him to spread his ass cheeks. The officer on intercom encouraged and told inmate “to do it” and cut his wrist. The officer also sexually whistled at Mr. E when he tried to work out. Mr. E. did slice his wrist.
Signed, C., 12/27/20
Grievance Response Summary:
Mr. C, your grievance has been received in our office. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention and for your concern of your fellow inmate. However, any correspondence on this issue will be addressed with the inmate. The incident has been addressed.
Signed, County Sheriff’s Office, 1/22/21
Dear Commission on Jail Standards,
Tarrant County Jail refuses to feed me according to my religious diet of Kosher. This has been an ongoing problem with Tarrant County Jail and their anti-Semitic standards. Tarrant County Jail has been vengeful and has retaliated against me for writing grievances. Please notify my family that, if Tarrant County Jail murders me by starving me to death, this isn’t a suicide. I take my faith seriously to the point of martyrdom. I am fully aware of the 17 deaths that occurred here in 2020. The only places Judaism is not accepted is Nazi Germany, Communist China, and Tarrant County, TX. Why? Police reform starts with jail reform.
Signed, C., 4/26/21
Commission on Jail Standards,
I’ve been retaliated against. Blatant, out-in-the-open retaliation. Three days ago, I wrote a grievance about a man who has been sexually harassing me for months. Yesterday, I was called into an office to identify him. Today, I was taken and placed in a holdover cell with him. Alone. After that, the guards were talking so loudly about the situation that everyone knew everything. Now, I’m a target. On top of that, I wasn’t fed for 12 hours. The investigator asked if anyone else would come forward. Why would they? I’ve been made an example of. I will keep myself safe at all costs.
Signed, F., 4/30/21
Commission on Jail Standards,
Yesterday, words were exchanged between the officers and my husband. They asked him which bunk was his. My husband then pointed to which one was his. After the shake-down, my husband went to his bunk and noticed that my private photographs in my panties were spread out in his bunk and left out for the whole pod to see. The photographs of our kids were neatly still in his envelopes. He asked to talk to someone higher in rank, and the officers just laughed. This is not the first time I had to contact this facility due to their non-professional acts. These men are humans, not animals.
Signed, S., 1/10/21
Texas Commission on Jail Standards,
This jail needs your assistance. Please send in a neutral entity to test all inmates at this location. I woke up with a headache and sweats one day. After three days and numerous times with a quarantine sign on our 22-man pod, I was told by different nurses that “I’m not here to see you.”
At first, I thought I might be getting a cold. I finally managed to get my blood pressure checked, which turned out to be stroke-level. My symptoms kept getting worse. For eight days I thought I was going to die. I could only eat orange slices from a fellow inmate celebrating Ramadan. I could not get the attention from the medical staff. All they would do is take my temperature.
One night, I could not breathe. I was able to call to my [daughter] and tell her that I loved her and that I felt like I may not wake up the next morning. I felt as if a truck was parked on my chest. The nurse told me to “calm down” and that I was “overexcited.”
I got so bad I actually wanted to die. People, doctors, nurses, and medical staff can stand and say what is to be expected on how a personal coronavirus diagnosis makes a person feel, but, until you have it and you feel it inside of you trying to kill you, it is indescribable. It is even difficult to describe today. This virus brought me to my knees in every way imaginable. I was begging God to take me away from what I was feeling inside, and nobody seemed to care at all. At times, I felt like I was already dead but my body and mind were still here on Earth.
I did not think I would ever see my girl again, never get a chance to speak with my daughter, see my home, or play with my dog. I’ve always had adversity in my life and faced it head-on, never believing in my life that something like this virus would cause me to feel like this.
Signed, B., 5/20/20
Good morning Texas Commission on Jail Standards,
We received an unusual phone call on 8/12/20 from an individual named [redacted] who is undergoing competency restoration at the North TX State Hospital in Wichita Falls. Mr. [redacted] informed us that a staff member at [Texas Health and Human Services Commission] had urged him to contact us. Mr. [redacted] detailed his experiences at Tarrant County Jail from where he was transferred on or around the second of July.
He begged us to find a way to let him stay at the hospital until his court date. He alleged that on February 28th he was beaten up by Tarrant County jailers so badly that he has permanent injuries on his ear, neck, and back. He says his x-ray for the injuries says “blunt force trauma.” He also claims that, between May 28-30th, jailers entered his cell and confiscated all copies of his grievances that he had filed since his booking on or around 11/9/2019.
From [redacted]: I am petrified, petrified, petrified. I am petrified to go back to that jail. Is there anything you can do to help me stay here at the hospital until my court date? I cannot go back to that jail. I am not just afraid for my life. I am petrified. I have no family, no one to advocate for me. You can pull the video from the incident, and you can look at my medical reports to see how badly they hurt me. Please, don’t let me go back to that jail.
Signed, G., 8/17/20
Texas Commission on Jail Standards,
Around the end of August, I was removed from my cell, taken to the shower, and pepper-sprayed. I did nothing to provoke this attack and did not resist the officers’ commands in any way. I have been incarcerated for a Class A Misdemeanor for four months and have not been to court or talked to an attorney. Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. I am in great fear of further retaliation.
Signed, B., 10/3/20
Texas Commission on Jail Standards,
My daughter B. has been in Tarrant County Jail since early last week on a bench warrant [for violating the rules of the court]. The charge was dropped by the DA last Wednesday. I flew from St. Louis last Friday thinking I was picking her up and found out when I got there her parole date has now been moved to February 14. My daughter is also eight months pregnant, and it is urgent that I get her released before she has her baby. She finally saw a doctor today who gave her some sort of an injection that they said would prevent whooping cough in a baby. I’ve never heard of such a thing nor have I ever heard of someone eight months pregnant being given any kind of vaccination. This is another concern.
Signed, B., 2/5/2020
To whom it may concern,
I am writing this letter in hopes that one voice is heard and listened to about the extremely deplorable and unsanitary conditions at Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth. For the past three weekends, I have had to spend weekend jail at this facility. Inmates are being treated with lack for human compassion and forced to spend time near bodily fluids from other inmates.
The second weekend, I was held [in] the holding area for over 25 hours due to overcrowding. We were forced to endure blood on the floor from another inmate. One room whose maximum capacity was eight people held 28. People were forced to sit on the floor in the blood. We had no way of drinking water or going to the restroom. Several of the ladies informed the [commanding officers], but they just shrugged their shoulders and walked away. We were moved next door to where the toilets had just [flooded], and there was urine, used toilet paper, and feces left on the floor.
In February, I was forced to wait 17 hours before I was able to express breast milk, which caused extreme pain and trauma. I was given a hand pump to express [breast milk] but officer G. removed the bottle and refused to give another one back. I became extremely engorged. Since I had just given birth, I was on pain medication for my surgery during my stay. I also submitted my antidepressants and informed MHMR [My Health, My Resources] that I was on them daily. I never once received my medication for depression or pain.
Tarrant County Jail is in need of major attention and reform. Everyone is frustrated, including the employees who work there, and they take it out on the people there. I understand that jail is punishment for a crime committed, but no one should be exposed to or treated like what the people at Tarrant County are.
Best, E., 7/9/2019
Texas Commission on Jail Standards,
An inmate fell on 10/11/2020 and has both a broken arm and sprained wrist. He has yet to be taken to an ortho doctor. Inmate has twice been grabbed by the arm that is broken. He is 69 years old. The inmate was told by the supervisor that they could hit him, kick him, punch him, and do whatever they want with no consequences. This inmate is pretrial, not convicted of anything. He is only in because family cannot afford his bail, and he lived off social security. He is being treated inhumanely
Signed, M., 8/24/2020
County Jail Complaints,
My son [redacted] was incarcerated for a misdemeanor and put in solitary confinement for over two weeks. MHMR said he was under their care. He was extremely upset. He said they gave him a paper bag to use instead of toilet paper. He begged me to get him out of there! He has a drug problem, and he had thrown a rock in the window of a hospital. They enhanced this to a felony! He only gets to call about twice a week, and they make him hang up in about one minute! He says he is always hungry. I know they broke the law, but they are still human beings and we treat them like animals. For that matter, we treat animals better. Please help them.
Sincerely, M., 5/2/2020
To whom this may concern,
First off, my husband is a mental patient. He was discharged from John Peter Smith mental hospital on August 20, 2019. Tarrant County had warrants for him for some of the things that had happened while he was off his meds. Tarrant County picked him up straight out of the mental hospital on 10/20/2019. He was back on his meds and doing great.
He was transferred to Lon Evans Jail. On 10/8/2019, I went to visit with him. I began my visit and I could clearly see he was shaking violently. He was talking out of his head. He kept insisting he was in Oklahoma. Every visit is by monitor at Lon Evans Jail.
The next morning, I called to see if anyone had checked on him. He had been taken to the hospital, and I couldn’t see him for five days. I was desperately worried! I called the hospital. They didn’t show any record of him being there. I called the jail every day.
On 10/14/19, Chaplain M. from Tarrant County Jail called me around 3:30 p.m. He told me I needed to get to the hospital. [Redacted] was in ICU. The chaplain told me his kidney had failed but didn’t have any more details. My husband had been in critical condition all this time, and I wasn’t notified for five days. I was devastated.
There were several doctors and a chaplain in his room when I got there. He was brought in nonresponsive with a 106-degree temperature and seizures. I was hurt, angry, and scared. The doctor told me that every organ had taken a hit from the high temperature and they weren’t sure if he would pull through. My husband is 61-years-old.
On 10/15/19, I proceeded to call Chief R. He would not talk to me. He told the lady to have me call internal affairs. I wanted to press charges on every officer and nurse that was on my husband’s floor the night of 10/8/2019 for neglect.
For the next five days, they kept him in ICU. He was still very confused. On 10/20/2019, the officer that was in his room told me that when he works the floors at the jail, if the inmates are cursing and screaming at him and need something, [the jailers] would lay there and die before [they] would help them. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But, after the way they did my husband, I’m not surprised. This kind of behavior goes on more than we know.
No one should have to go through what he has been through and continues to go through. My husband has no criminal background, and he was an honest and hardworking man. I hope this brings some light on what these inmates and their families have to go through. Even though these people are in custody, they are still human and not to be treated like cows on their way to slaughter.
Thank you for your time, M., 10/7/2019
County Jail Complaints,
My son [redacted] was held in the Tarrant County Jail until two weeks ago when he was transferred to a halfway house in Del Valle, TX called the Austin Center.
He was and is supposed to be on medication for the following: epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. At Tarrant County Jail, they provided the meds. However, when he was transferred to the halfway house, his meds were not sent with him.
He has been without meds for two-plus weeks. When released early last week to come live with me, he went off the deep end and did not arrive in Fort Worth. He called me Friday night and said he was trying to come home but was seeing people following him, chasing him, who he thinks are federal agents. He is delusional. I told him when he gets to Fort Worth, go to the hospital and get mental help. He was arrested late last night and is back at Tarrant County Jail. He contacted me this morning and has not received anything at the Tarrant County Jail.
My complaint is with the Tarrant County Jail that did not provide the medications or send information to the halfway house. If they had, none of this would have happened.
Data provided by TCJS describes Tarrant County Jail’s ranking compared to other large Texas county jails. Last December, inmates in Tarrant and Bexar county jails each sent six complaints to TCJS. Clay (11), Smith (10), and Dallas (8) round out the top offenders that month. That month, two of Tarrant’s complaints required a response.
“All complaints received by this agency are reviewed to determine if the complaint is regarding a facility under the purview of the Jail Commission and/or alleges a violation of minimum jail standards,” a TCJS spokesperson said in an email. “If the review indicates a possible violation of minimum jail standards, the complaint will be forwarded to the county for a response and corresponding documentation to the allegation. If the complaint involves a facility not under the purview of the Jail Commission or does not involve a possible violation of minimum jail standards, the complainant shall be notified in writing of this fact and no further action may be taken.”
Allegations that describe criminal acts on the part of jail staff or inmates are forwarded to “appropriate law enforcement agencies” that could include the Texas Rangers and FBI, the spokesperson said.
“If it is determined a violation of minimum jail standards occurred, a notice of noncompliance may be issued,” the spokesperson said.
Included in my questions for TCJS was a request for the number of times TCJS staff took action as the result of a complaint from a member of Tarrant County Jail’s population.
“There is not a way to see how many times a county was given technical assistance or placed in noncompliance as a result of a complaint,” the agency replied.