Texas Jail Bars Investigation of Abuse

     VICTORIA, Texas (CN) — A state watchdog demands access to a Texas jail to investigate reports a suicidal inmate was stripped and strapped into a chair for 18 hours and forced to urinate and defecate on himself.
     As Texas’ designated “Protection and Advocacy System,” Disability Rights Texas monitors conditions in more than 200 county jails, teaches disabled prisoners about their rights, and investigates their allegations of abuse, the nonprofit says in a federal lawsuit.
     It sued Victoria County and its Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor on June 2.
     Victoria, the county seat, is 125 miles southwest of Houston.
     All states have a federally funded watchdog, like Disability Rights Texas, a role created when Congress passed the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act in 2000.
     “Disability Rights Texas, as Texas’ designated Protection and Advocacy System, has the authority to have unrestricted access to all general areas of the Victoria County Jail, as well as the jail’s special mental health or forensic units,” the lawsuit states.
     The nonprofit claims that since October 2015 it’s received several complaints from family members that Victoria County jailers will not give their relatives their mental health medication, which is worrisome, given the jail’s checkered past: Two inmates committed suicide in 2011.
     After hearing from an inmate that jailers stripped him, strapped him to a chair for 18 hours and withheld his medication, despite knowing he was suicidal, the nonprofit says, its employee Elva Cardenas asked the sheriff’s office for the man’s jail records, which confirmed his story.
     “The records indicate that the jail restrained the detainee in violation of a number of regulations. Specifically, on Aug. 4, 2015, the detainee was in the restraint chair after reporting he was suicidal for five hours and forty-eight minutes,” the complaint states.
     “Then, on Aug. 5, 2015, the records indicate that the detainee was put in the restraint chair for nine hours and thirty minutes. The logs do not indicate that the restraints were checked or that the detainee was offered a bathroom or water on either occasion. The records support the detainee’s allegation that he was forced to urinate and defecate on himself while restrained.”
     Cardenas demanded access to the jail on March 3 to investigate complaints and the sheriff’s office denied it, the nonprofit says.
     It says it sent a letter to the county’s assistant district attorney Brendan Guy, who is not a defendant, which cited its federal authority to visit the jail.
     Guy questioned its jurisdiction, and did not respond when it supplied more proof in correspondence, stating that Cardenas planned to enter the jail April 27, Texas Disability Rights claims.
     A sheriff’s deputy blocked Cardenas from getting into the jail that day, the nonprofit says.
     Texas Disability Rights seeks an injunction and a declaration that Victoria County’s stonewalling violates federal law.
     It is represented by its staff attorney Ashley Barr in Austin.
     The sheriff’s office had no one available to comment Sunday, a dispatcher said.

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