Texas Jail System Under Scrutiny Following Officer Indictment

In Texas, a former detention officer at the Harris County Jail, Eric Morales, has been indicted for the death of an inmate, Jaquaree Simmons.

Eric Niles Morales (left) of Houston, has been charged with felony manslaughter in the death of Jaquaree Simmons (right), a 23-year-old Houston man who was found unconscious in his cell on Feb. 17, 2021. (Photo: Khou)

Simmons was found unconscious in his cell in 2021 and was pronounced dead at a hospital. The death was ruled as a homicide resulting from injuries to his head. According to a news release, this is the first time a detention officer at the jail has been charged in connection with an in-custody death.

Community activists and civil rights organizations claim that overcrowding and understaffing in jail have created dangerous conditions for inmates. 27 people died in jail last year, with causes including illness, alcohol and drug intoxication, and homicide.

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Activists hope that Morales’ indictment will prompt changes in the jail, which has been criticized for its recent deaths and overcrowding. The Texas jail’s population has exceeded its capacity of 10,000 and has faced delays in medical care and processing due to crowding. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal investigation after Simmons’ death and nearly 1,200 detention officers have undergone additional training to prevent misconduct. Morales was one of 11 employees who were fired after Simmons’ death, while six others were suspended.

In a statement, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said that residents expect detention officers to treat inmates fairly and humanely and that those who break the law in the jail will be prosecuted. Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Simmons’ family, called Morales’ indictment a “major milestone.” Community activist Quanell X called for adequate staffing at the jail and for an outside agency to investigate the recent deaths. According to a news release, Simmons’ mother has launched a suit for wrongful death in a federal court in Houston against Morales, other detention officers, and the sheriff’s office.

In conclusion, the indictment of Eric Morales for the death of Jaquaree Simmons has sparked hope for change in the Texas jail, which has faced criticism for overcrowding and a high number of recent deaths. Prosecutors and activists call for better treatment of inmates, adequate staffing, and outside investigations into the recent deaths.

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