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Eleven jailers in Texas fired after Black detainee’s death

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Jaquaree Simmons, 23, was stripped and fatality beaten by detention officers on Feb. 16, 2021 at Harris County jail, Texas.

A sheriff in the US State of Texas has fired eleven jail employees for beating a handcuffed naked Black man to death.

"I have fired 11 employees for various serious policy violations,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced at a Friday afternoon news conference, adding that six more employees were put on unpaid suspension in connection to the in-custody death of the Black man in February.

Gonzalez said Jaquaree Simmons, 23, was found dead in his cell on February 17 after detention officers beat him, causing trauma to his head and brain damage during a power outage caused by an ice storm that hit Texas at that time.

“During a natural disaster we expect, I expect, to see the very best in our employees," the sheriff told reporters.

"These 11 people betrayed my trust and the trust of our community. They abused their authority; their conduct toward Mr. Simmons was reprehensible. They showed complete disregard for the safety and well-being of a person they were directly responsible for protecting".

Gonzalez added that the Houston Police Department was still investigating Simmons' death after the Internal Affairs department had completed its investigation into the case by conducting 73 interviews with 20 inmates and 37 employees.

He said the final results of the investigations will be sent to the Harris County District Attorney's  office for legal action.

“I understand that these disciplinary actions in no way make up for what happened to Jaquaree Simmons inside our jail but I owe it to him, to his mother and to our community to do everything in my power to ensure those who had a hand in it are held accountable and that this sort of thing never happens again,” he said.

Simmons’ mother said she just wanted justice for her son.

“I just want justice for my son. That’s what I want. Every day I go through not being able to eat, not being able to sleep, and so do my children. I want them arrested. I want them to take accountability for what they did to my son,” Simmons’ mother LaRhonda Biggles said in an interview.

Harris County Sheriff Department Maj. Thomas Diaz added that the employees who had been terminated and suspended had committed a number of violations that included excessive use of force, failure to document excessive use of force, failure to intervene, making false statement to investigators, and the violation of prison procedures.

Based on the evidence gathered by Internal Affairs investigators, Simmons was booked into the Harris County Jail for the charge of felon in possession of a firearm on Feb. 10.

Simmons was evaluated by jail medical personnel who reported no significant health issues, either physical or mental.

He was then assigned to a cell on the seventh floor of  the Harris County Jail where he was to remain in quarantine in accordance to COVID-19 protocols.

On the morning of Feb. 16, on the third day of the historic ice storm in Texas which had dropped the temperatures and caused  a massive power outage, Simmons reportedly used his clothing to clog the toilet of his cell, which caused it to overflow and flood the compartment. Jailers removed Simmons from the cell so they could clean it. During the process, they stripped Simmons, taking his clothes.

They then returned Simmons to his cell without any clothes.

In the evening, jailers returned to Simmons’ cell to deliver his meal. One of the jailers filed a written report claiming that Simmons threw his tray at the officer, lunged toward him and threatened him. The jailer said he struck Simmons with a closed fist and closed the cell door, leaving Simmons inside his cell. The jailers then called for more jailers to come to remove Simmons from his cell so he could be evaluated by medical personnel.

Diaz said the jail employees had used force against Simmons in the confrontations with him.

Medical staff evaluated Simmons in the clinic that night and reported he was conscious and had a cut to his left eyebrow and upper lip. They reported he had no pain. Medical staff ordered that an X-ray be taken as soon as possible. At the time, power was out inside the building as a result of the winter storm which left millions of Texas residents without electricity.

On Feb. 17, Simmons was found unresponsive in his cell and transferred after CPR to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

This news came a day after three US police officers were charged in the killing of another Black man as Americans marked the first anniversary of the muder of George Floyd, the Black man, who died after former policeman Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes on May 25 last year.




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