Criminal Justice

Harris County Jail detention officer beats man and puts him in coma, family alleges

Two days after entering Harris County Jail, Adael Gonzalez Garcia was put into a coma after an incident with a detention officer.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Maura Nieto and her daughter Marisol Tobar demand answers after Adael Gonzalez Garcia was left in a coma while in custody at Harris County Jail. Taken on Dec. 8, 2022.

The family of a man who was put into a coma after an incident inside Harris County Jail is demanding answers from county officials.

Adael Gonzalez Garcia was booked into Harris County Jail one day before Thanksgiving, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Two days later, he fell into a coma after an incident with a detention officer.

During a press conference on Thursday, Attorney Randall Kallinen — along with Garcia’s girlfriend and her daughter — said they were given little-to-no answers regarding what happened to Garcia and demanded county officials release video of the incident.

“We need those videos,” Kallinen said. “Because the family wants answers, the community wants answers.”

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Garcia, 48, was booked into Harris County Jail on Nov. 23 on an DWI warrant issued out of Walker County. The following night, Garcia “suffered an injury to his facial area” after falling from the top bunk in his cell.

On Nov. 25, Garcia was released from the jail’s clinic and being escorted to another cell when “staff report Garcia became combative and attempted to strike a detention officer with his fist,” according to the Sheriff’s Office. During the struggle, Garcia fell and struck his head on the ground, according to staff.

Five days later, Walker County released their warrant for Garcia's arrest and he is no longer considered in custody. As of Dec. 8, Garcia remains in a coma at Ben Taub Hospital.

The Sheriff’s Office says the incident is being investigated by the agency’s Internal Affairs Division.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Marisol Tobar holds photos of Adael Gonzalez Garcia, who was left in a coma while in custody at Harris County Jail. Taken on Dec. 8, 2022.

The news comes after four people recently died while in custody at Harris County Jail — Bryan Johnson, 34, Victoria Simon, 42, Alan Kerber, 34, Robert Horn, 70 — bringing the total number of in-custody deaths this year to at least 27, the highest amount in nearly two decades, according to county records and data from Texas Justice Initiative.

Jail reform advocates have blamed the facility’s bloated population for an increase in violence and deaths within the jail this year.

Issues caused by the jail’s swelling population have been exacerbated by an insufficient amount of staff, according to Cynthia Cole, the executive director of a Houston chapter of AFSCME, a local union that represents about 40% of the workers inside Harris County Jail, according to Cole.

“My members are stretched,” Cole said. “They’re working long hours. They are exposed to an environment that probably is unsafe.”

As of Wednesday, there were 9,949 people in the jail, according to the Harris County Jail dashboard.

During Thursday’s press conference, Marisol Tobar — the daughter of Garcia’s girlfriend, Maura Nieto — questioned whether Garcia actually fell from his bunk and said video footage would shed light on what exactly happened during the altercation.

“We just want justice because this shouldn’t have happened. And I know he didn’t fall off a bunk, so I just want to see that video.” Tobar said. “We want answers. We want to know the truth.”

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