Jails have history of violations; Infractions date back to 2014

BROWNSVILLE — A series of inspections done by state authorities at the Cameron County detention centers detailed violations in the maintenance of life safety equipment and cell supervision over the course of five years.

The inspections took place in November 2019, September 2018, January 2018, October 2016, September 2015, and October 2014. Officials from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards arrive at the facilities unannounced and conduct walk-throughs to determine if the jail is up to health and safety standards.

The commission also conducts checks on employee protocol to ensure that proper policies are being followed while supervising inmates.

According to Sheriff Omar Lucio, the various compliance failures are the result of different inspectors, some with different levels of experience, as well as changing laws that he feels the department tries its best to keep up with.

One violation that was documented multiple times over the course of inspections was the failure of jail staff to maintain life safety equipment — namely the detention center’s fire panel.

In October of this year, the panel at Carrizales-Rucker was red tagged for having eight different trouble alarms. Lucio told The Brownsville Herald in November that the part had been ordered and was ready to be installed.

The jail is still listed as non-compliant on the commission’s website. Lucio said on Wednesday that the department has done all necessary updates and paperwork and is waiting on a follow-up inspection, which will take place in March.

The last inspection date on another fire panel’s tags — this time at the old county jail located at 954 E. Harrison Street in Brownsville — was listed in the November report as being tagged Oct. 19, 2018, exactly one year prior.

The document stated that the date was marked over in an attempt to amend the inspection date from 10/19/2018 to 10/19/2019. Inspectors also specified that the jail administration failed to produce an inspection report.

Smoke detectors were not functioning during an inspection in September 2018. A vendor was on site repairing the smoke detectors at the time the inspection took place, according to the report.

The equipment hadn’t been inspected in nine months due to an issue with county contracts.

Issues with the fire safety equipment were also documented by the commission at both jails in October 2016, September 2015. An additional violation was found at Carrizales in October 2014.

Other documented violations included failure by jail staff to conduct regular cell check and walk-throughs, as well as inmates not being given full one-hour time periods outside of cells each day.

Inspectors also documented inadequate access to exercise, as required by minimum standards.

A January 2018 report indicated that supervisors were not sighing off on mental health screening forms after inmates answered “yes” to a series of listed questions.

The report from November 2019 stated that inmate suicide screening forms were not being completed in their entirety. In addition, the commission found that inmate grievances and appeals were not consistently documented.

Also noted was that surveillance video showed that jailers did not, in fact, conduct face-to-face observations of inmates at Carrizales despite the fact that observation logs indicated otherwise.

In September 2015, the commission documented that numerous inmates were being held in cells in the booking area in excess of the 48-hour time limit — sometimes for a period of up to seven days.

Health standard violations documented over the course of inspections included food pass doors that were found broken and the potential mold and mildew in cell vents.

“One inspector will come through one time, a second will come through another, and they’ll want different things,” said Lucio. “We try our best to accommodate those requests and maintain compliance.”