State jail inspectors make 'surprise' visit to Bexar County jail following 2 inmate suicides

State inspection reports show fewer problems at jail under Pamerleau

SAN ANTONIO – State jail inspectors made an unannounced visit to the Bexar County jail this week following the suicides of two inmates in the past two weeks.

Both inmates appeared to have hanged themselves in their cells.

In a statement to KSAT 12 News, Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, wrote: "An inspector was on-site yesterday as part of the review of the two suicides that have occurred at the Bexar County Jail this month. Our agency reviews all deaths in custody to determine if there were any violations of minimum of jail standards. A majority of the reviews are conducted through an examination of required reports and paperwork, but occasionally we will send an inspector out as part of the process. We do not have a date as we are still gathering information."

James Keith, spokesman for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, said the agency welcomed the review.

"Anytime someone loses their life in one of our facilities, we have failed and we have a responsibility to make it right," Keith said. "We welcome anyone who wants to come in and give us any sort of insight. If there are weaknesses in our jail, or in our system, we want to know about them."

Keith said he's confident the state inspectors will not find any major problems as it reviews the recent suicides.

"Verbally, they told us that they didn't see any issues, but they were going to provide a report with a summary that would detail anything that they did find," Keith said.

The first suicide happened on June 28 and the second last Saturday. The deaths were the first suicides to occur at the jail this year.

Keith said while the county jail has become a national model for its efforts to screen incoming inmates for mental illness and suicidal tendencies, they still have room for improvement.

"You can't always stop this. You want to, but it's not always possible," Keith said. "In fact, we have hundreds of attempted suicides every year that our deputies are able to stop, but unfortunately we do have these rare situations where someone is successful whenever they do make that attempt."

The Defenders recently requested all of the state inspections performed at the jail since 2008.
The reports track the number of deaths, suicides, escapes and fires that occur in all Texas jails, as well as any deficiencies found.

According to the documents obtained by the Defenders, from 2012 to 2015, under the leadership of Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, there were no deficiencies found by inspectors. There were 20 deaths, 10 suicides, four escapes, and 16 fires recorded in that time period.

Under the watch of former sheriffs Amadeo Ortiz and Rolando Tafolla, between 2008-2012, state inspectors logged 21 areas of noncompliance that were later corrected.

There were two areas of noncompliance in 2010, seven in 2009 and 12 in 2008. There were 25 deaths, 11 suicides, two escapes and 22 fires reported in that time period.

Keith said the inspection reports show Pamerleau has made improvements at the jail but still strives to make it better.

"If we could be considered a national model and still have incidents where an inmate is able to commit suicide, it shows you there's still a lot of work that has to be done in the corrections industry," Keith said. "We're committed to finding those flaws, fixing them and learning from those mistakes."

Link: BCSO Jail Inspection Records 2008-2015

 


About the Author:

Tim Gerber is an investigative reporter and anchor on the KSAT Defenders team.