“Inmate…” revisited

I’ve let this sit here way too long. It’s time I post this and be done with it.

This is a follow-up post to my original post on this story back in 2009 November, so just in case you have not already read it, you may wish to go back and read that one and get some of the background. In case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: I blogged my reaction to a Houston Press article describing an apparent lapse in medical care of a man at the Harris County Jail. While this man, Monte Killian, doesn’t start his unfortunate ordeal with our “justice system” in the best of medical shape, the medical care he receives is so sloppily managed that he is effectively coerced into pleading guilty, and on the day after his release he is immediately sent to the emergency room by his doctor.

Before I go any further: It is my position that regardless of the crime of which one is accused, that this kind of thing should never happen. One whom a government agency has taken into custody and thus accepted the responsibility for should not just be released into the free world in a condition where one should be in a hospital. To do otherwise is reckless.

I honestly had no idea when writing that post on this story that it would be so hotly contested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and that I would wind up exchanging several e-mails with both Randall Patterson, the Houston Press reporter, and Alan Bernstein, the HCSD’s director of public affairs. I did learn a few things about the case that I did not know before, that were not made quite as explicitly clear in the original story.

I have seen both the memo Mr. Bernstein sent to the Houston Press, and the response from Margaret Downing, the editor. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to quote from either, but I am permitted to relay my impressions after reading both. Were I not, there would be no reason to enter another post on the topic.

I, of course, did not expect the warmest reception to a story quite critical of a party, by a liaison for that party. Mr. Bernstein’s memo is very aggressive in calling out what he believes to be errors in the story, quotes taken out of context, and the like. I believed many of these errors to be minor and immaterial to the story, even before reading the official word from Ms. Downing that the Houston Press stands by the story as printed.

Even the slightly more significant errors do not really undermine the story. In fact, it’s kind of a stretch to call some of them errors, some can be seen as simply a different way of telling the story that doesn’t quite jive with the county’s PR people want out there.

This part is, or at least should be, public record: Monte did not plead guilty to the drug possession charge, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer. However, this latter charge falls squarely in the category of the type of “trumped up” charges often laid on someone in the hope that even if the original case is thrown out, the other charge(s) will stick. Other examples of these kinds of charges: resisting arrest, evading arrest, disorderly conduct, escape and related charges (for those already in custody). These are not the only ones.

The laws are written specifically to make sure these trumped up charges stick even if the original charge is dropped. In fact, just to give you an idea, I’ll quote some of the penal code here, for the charge of resisting arrest:

Sec. 38.03. RESISTING ARREST, SEARCH, OR TRANSPORTATION. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from effecting an arrest, search, or transportation of the actor or another by using force against the peace officer or another.

(b) It is no defense to prosecution under this section that the arrest or search was unlawful.

There are similar sections of other laws (most notably, 38.08 as it applies to both charges related to escape).

I know I’m speculating big time here, but I can’t let this go unsaid. It is entirely possible the “crack rock” the original arresting officer saw was just a ploy to try to establish probable cause, of looking through events with “cop-colored glasses.” I will admit I wasn’t there, and I haven’t seen the original arrest report. At some point I’ll try to get whatever is available as public record.

Even if I were to give the HCSD every benefit of the doubt, and accept Mr. Bernstein’s memo as the gospel truth, I am still left with this: A man who HCSD was responsible for the custody and care of, was given “strict ER precautions” by a county doctor at LBJ Hospital, and yet the day after his release directly to the free world (not to a hospital or medical care facility), he’s in such bad shape he’s sent immediately to the ER by his own doctor.

And yet, the county (as evidenced by Ms. Garza’s statement quoted in the original post) stands by the PR spin that “Mr. Killian’s medical issues were always promptly addressed by the physicians,” everything is fine and dandy. Oh, what, he was barely alive when he pleaded guilty? This newspaper reporter writes this story that he pleaded guilty just to save his life? Hey, we did our job, we kept yet another trial off the court’s docket, we made sure the public defender didn’t have to deal with another trial, mission accomplished.

That’s inexcusable. That’s disgraceful. That’s the kind of stuff that wrecks years’ worth of goodwill and makes honest PR people cringe knowing they might have to clean up that mess.

I’m not expecting first-rate medical care out of the doctors and nurses the HCSD hires to work in the jail. But even the deputies should be able to make the call “hey, we can’t just let this guy wander out into the free world like this, he needs to go to the hospital or at least have a doctor look at him.” Maybe even say to the inmate (Monte in this case) “you’re a free man right now, but we really think you should get checked out by a doctor.”

It does not matter if one is accused of assaulting one of their own. There is a reason for the expression “one of Harris County’s finest.” The badge means one has a duty to be better than that. Those not up to fulfilling that duty shouldn’t be wearing that badge.

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