Rhonda Newsome

Editor's note. The following are summaries of 25 randomly selected Texas Rangers investigations of in-custody deaths in 2017 and 2018. The investigations provided information for today's editorial, "Without oversight, Texas jails become lethal."  

1. Marco Antonio Munoz, apprehended after attempting to cross the border, committed suicide in the Starr County Jail, a day after he was dropped off by the U.S. Border Patrol because of an attempted escaped. Munoz, 39, of Honduras, strangled himself in a padded cell on May 13, 2018. Border agents said Munoz “lost it” after his 3-year-old son was pulled out of his hands at a processing center in McAllen, Texas. The investigation found jail staff did not conduct required 30-minute observations of Munoz. In August, Munoz's widow sued the U.S. government and Starr County.

2. Mary Ann Flanagan, 47, committed suicide in a Harrison County holding cell on March 18, 2017, just after midnight. She was found with a gray blanket knotted around her neck. A $2-million federal wrongful death lawsuit, filed by Flanagan's husband earlier this year, alleges jailers did not check on Flanagan. She was arrested the day before for stealing underwear from Walmart. A Harrison County jailer completed Flanagan's suicide questionnaire and concluded Flanagan was not a suicide risk.

3. A detention officer found Vincent Dewayne Young, 32, of Houston, hanging by a bed sheet in the Harris County Jail at 7 10 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2017. Young stood his bed up and wedged it into the shower. He then secured the sheet on a top corner of the bed and knotted the sheet around his neck. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital about an hour later. Young was jailed six days before on charges of drug possession and fraudulent use of identifying information. A Texas Rangers investigation found 21 discrepancies between observation logs and digital video camera records. Young told medical staff members he suffered from anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, and paranoia. Still, they determined he did not need mental health services.

4. Amie Coon, 41, was found dead in her cell in the Tyler County Jail on Nov. 13, 2017, after she hanged herself with a television cable in her cell. Arrested the day before, she told a magistrate she was going to kill herself. The magistrate said Coon, who was jailed on an outstanding warrant for drug possession, was just blowing off steam over her recent arrest. Investigators found no face-to-face observation of Coon for nearly six hours, between 4:01 p.m. and 9:49 p.m., when she was found dead.

5. Three weeks after he was arrested for robbery and evading arrest, 17-year-old Emmanuel Akueir was found hanging from a bed sheet, tied to the bars of a single cell, in the Fort Bend County jail. The apparent suicide occurred on Jan. 26, 2017. Six feet tall, Akueir weighed 115 pounds. He had expressed suicidal thoughts to other inmates – and possibly to jail staff – the day before he died.

6. El Paso County inmate Catherine Fischer, 51, was found unresponsive in her jail cell on Sept. 12, 2018. Emergency Medical Services took her to Las Palmas Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy ruled a seizure disorder caused the death. The report was far too sketchy to determine whether negligence was involved. 

7. Johnny Dewayne Hall, 39, died from a drug overdose (cocaine) in the emergency room of St. Joseph Hospital in Bryan, where he was pronounced dead at 11:57 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2017. Police had taken Hall to the Brazos County Jail at 10 p.m. on a charge of tampering with evidence. (During a traffic stop, Hall threw a small plastic baggie of cocaine out of his car.) At the jail, while still being processed, Hall started to shake and was taken to the hospital.

8. When a Travis County jailer brought a food tray to prisoner Naquan James Carter at 9:45 a.m. on July 24 of 2018, he found Carter face down on his bed and unresponsive. Carter, 23, was pronounced dead 45 minutes later. A mental health treatment center had diagnosed Carter with schizoaffective disorder, intellectual disability, and hypertension. Surveillance video later revealed that Carter, who died from heart failure due to high blood pressure, fell from his bed at about 7:30 a.m. He was arrested eight months earlier for “assault on a public servant.” 

9. Travis County inmate Eric Taylor, 24, a mentally ill inmate on lockdown without outside contact, died on March 31 of last year at about 5 p.m. Earlier in the day, staff said he had exhibited “odd behavior.” Taylor said he was having bad side effects from psychotropic medication. One jailer said Taylor was given the wrong medication on the day he died. When the jailer told the nurse, she said, “Am I supposed to ….care.” Taylor stared at the ceiling and walked in circles with his tongue out. He also was observed lapping up water from the floor and spitting it out. A corrections cadet later told investigators he believed Taylor was acting out to get the guards' attention. Taylor's death was attributed to “natural causes.”

10. On. Nov. 24, 2018, Randall Lamont Britton, 32, a prisoner at the Smith County Jail, was found unresponsive in his cell at about 5:30 p.m. His face swollen, he lay on his bed, with fluid coming from his mouth and urine near his waist. Britton was schizophrenic and was confined at Rusk State Hospital. Jailed for four years, Britton was scheduled to be sentenced for manslaughter Nov. 30. After Britton went into convulsions, another inmate yelled for help for up to 10 minutes before staff arrived. Britton had requested to see medical staff the day he died. His death was attributed to heart disease.

11. Potter County prisoner Daniel Martinez, 22, left two notes close to where he hanged himself with a torn white sheet in a single-person jail cell on May 1, 2018. “If you are reading this, everything worked out,” the note read. “I'm sorry. I am so weak. I hope everyone can forgive me. ...Lord, forgive me.” He died at about 11 p.m. Martinez was jailed for about a week. His probation was revoked when he was charged with evading arrest.

12. Houston County prisoner Richard Prewitt, 37, was found dead in his solitary cell at about 6 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2018. Vomit covered the floor and toilet. He was face down on his bed, bleeding from his mouth. He had been locked up since 2016, awaiting trial. He was diagnosed as mentally ill. After viewing surveillance video, Texas Rangers found discrepancies between the written inspection log and the video, suggesting a hand-written log was forged. A jailer later acknowledged he did not make rounds as documented on the observation log. An autopsy said Prewitt died from heart disease.

13. Michael Anthony Rivera, 34, died of a drug overdose July 18, 2017, at about 2:30 a.m. at Citizens Medical Center in Victoria, after getting transported there from the Victoria County Jail. Rivera was booked into the jail the day before, on July 17, at 10:40 p.m., on a marijuana possession charge during a traffic stop. While in jail, Rivera was checked every 15 minutes – twice as frequently as the state requires. Rivera tested positive for marijuana and amphetamines. His stomach also contained a small plastic baggie – suggesting he swallowed narcotics during the traffic stop.

14. Prisoner Donald Ray Coor, 50, died at the Travis County Correctional Complex on March 31, 2018. He was found unresponsive in his cell. Austin County EMS responded but Coor was pronounced dead at 6:30 a.m. The last visual check made on Coor was an hour before the emergency, which violated state standards. Coor had been dry heaving and moaning the night before and grabbling his chest. An inmate said Coor told him he had a history of mental illness and was extremely depressed and crying. Coor, however, was not under a mental illness protocol.

15. Nacogdoches County prisoner Voncharles Lane, 45, was pronounced dead at Memorial Hospital, following what an emergency room physicians called a massive heart attack on Nov. 11, 2017. Lane was found unresponsive, frothing from the mouth, in his cell at 10:55 a.m., and transported to the hospital at 11:09 a.m. He was booked in the jail 11 months prior on a charge of public intoxication.

16. Fannin County prisonerPaul Plecker, 67, died Nov. 29, 2018, the same day he was offered a 30-year plea deal. He had been incarcerated for six months, arriving with several life-threatening conditions. A former jailer who was working with a temporary license, Javier Marroquin, said he didn't check on Plecker right before he died. He acknowledged falsifying logs to cover it up. Marroquin, who was later fired for falsifying logs, said he received no training on how to recognize an inmate in medical distress. The autopsy said he died of a heart disease, aggravated by lung problems and diabetes.

17. Troy Donovan Pree, 54, was found unresponsive in the Bowie County Jail on June 7, 2018. He had been arrested for criminal trespass four months earlier. He was found sitting on the floor naked (jailers said he didn't wear clothes) at about 9 a.m. Pree died of acute necrotizing bronchopneumonia, with HIV as a contributing factor. Necrotizing pneumonia is a serious, life-threatening condition for which he apparently received no treatment. Nor was Pree receiving mental health services.

18. Duane Jaso, 44, died in custody on June 24, 2017, at the Guadalupe Regional Hospital, where he was transported from the Guadalupe County Detention Center. Cause of death was listed as hypertensive and arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a form of heart disease aggravated by high blood pressure. In the emergency room, Jaso, who was booked into the jail a year earlier, appeared blue from the neck up. One inmate told investigators Jaso told him earlier in the day that the doctor who removed Jaso's gall bladder three days earlier wanted Jaso re-admitted to the hospital. The jail doctor told Jaso he would consider it. Jaso was six-foot-three and weighed 295 pounds.

19. An autopsy ruled Kelli Leanne Page, 46, died from mechanical asphyxiation associated with restraint, following a struggle with two Coryell County jailers on Oct. 8 of 2017. A Grand Jury no billed the case. At 8 a.m., Page started to scream and bang on her cell with a hairbrush. Two jailers, Corp. Steven Lovelady and Wesley Pelfrey, gave her several warnings to calm down or be placed in a restraint chair.  Page continued to resit, as the jailers attempted to handcuff her. During the struggle, Lovelady applied two knee strikes to Page's right side and struck her head with a closed fist. Page was restrained in a prone position, with one officer pressing on her upper back and another on her buttocks and thighs, until she became unresponsive. Page had several medical conditions, due to heavy drug use and alcoholism.

20. Two El Paso County detention officers falsified activity log reports on Sept. 16, 2017, before prisoner Roberto Silva Gallegos, 58, was found unresponsive in his cell at 4:25 a.m. No physical check had been made on Gallegos for nearly two hours before he died. Gallegos had been jailed five months before for criminal mischief. Two detention officers – Mathew McBain and Dorian Lautret – were later arrested for tampering with, or falsifying, a government document. Cause of death was a ruptured bowel. Five days before he died, Gallegos complained of abdominal pain and vomiting. He was given Pepto Bismol.

21. Travis County inmate Herman Titus, 21, died on June 19 of 2017, from heart disease and, according to the medical examiner, a hardening of the heart's walls. Titus had a slightly enlarged heart but otherwise was healthy with no serious medical issues. Using a loophole in the state's public information laws, Travis County withheld video and other evidence requested by Titus' mother. The State Commission on Jail Standards found no violations in Titus' death.

22. James Dean Davis, 42, died of a methamphetamine overdose in a holding cell in La Salle County Jail on Aug. 1, 2017. Davis was brought in on a warrant for theft at 2 p.m. on July 31. He was in a holding cell with three other inmates, who said Davis was moaning loudly and yelling all night, asking for help. Jailers ignored the pleas and found him unresponsive at about 6:30 a.m. On video, one jailer could be heard mimicking Davis' moans while the other jailer laughed. One jailer admitted to falsifying several observations on Davis. She said falsifying observations was a common practice. She said Sgt. Martinez told her they had to record observations every 30 minutes – even if they didn't make them – otherwise TCJS could shut the jail down and they would lose their jobs.

23. Smith County Jail detainee Carlos Jose Hernandez, Jr., committed suicide in the jail shortly after midnight on June 12, 2017. Hernandez, 21, was found hanging at 12:15 a.m. with his head in a loop of fabric torn from his blanket and secured from the frame of the cell's shower stall. One guard yelled, “Oh my God, he's hanging and I don't have a radio.” 911 was called five minutes later. Hernandez had a piece of paper with names and telephone numbers in his hand when found. During his screening at intake, Hernandez said he drank two bottles of Crown Royal a day, and had attempted suicide. He answered “yes” for mental illness.

24. Rhonda Newsome, 50, died in an Anderson County Jail holding cell at about 5 p.m. on June 15 of last year. Her death came nearly seven hours after Palestine Regional Medical Center informed jail nurse Tim Green that Newsome's blood tests showed she was, without immediate medical attention, in imminent danger of death. After Newsome stopped breathing ,  jail staff tried to use a malfunctioning automatic electronic defibrillator (AED) on her.

25. Arrested for a parole violation, Donald Ray Cox was taken to the Houston County Jail, where he died April 12, 2017. He was found unresponsive in his jail cell about three weeks after his arrest. His death was attributed to heart disease, the manner of death was “natural.” Details in the investigation were sketchy. His age was not given.

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