BCSO jailer made improper cell check prior to inmate's suicide

Jailer Israel Gomez suspended 10 days

SAN ANTONIO – Suspension records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders revealed a Bexar County Sheriff's Office detention officer was given a 10-day suspension after conducting an improper check on the jail cell of an inmate who committed suicide late last year.

Jailer Israel Gomez was handed the suspension in late March, more than three months after inmate Ricardo Gamez, 54, was found unresponsive in his cell.

The Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office later ruled Gamez's death a suicide by hanging and noted that a cloth ligature formed into a noose was found with the inmate's body.

"He wasn't a troublemaker. He didn't go around hurting people," said Gamez's younger brother, Ramon Gamez.

Ricardo Gamez committed suicide four days after agreeing to plead guilty to a third DWI charge.

As a habitual offender, whose criminal record also included a felony conviction of engaging in organized criminal activity, Ricardo Gamez was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Ramon Gamez said his older brother was distraught at the thought of having to serve close to two decades in prison.

"They didn't kill him, but they were responsible for him," said Ramon Gamez, referring to the detention officers.

Ricardo Gamez was the last of five people to commit suicide while in custody at the Bexar County Jail last year.

According to Sheriff's Office records, Gomez failed to look inside cell 21 of the jail while conducting a check at 2:10 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2016.

Gomez's suspension paperwork said on top of failing to check on Ricardo Gamez, he also failed to notice that Gamez's cellmate, Theodore Veale, was not in the cell.

Thirty-five minutes later, at 2:45 p.m., Gomez found Veale seven cells away and ordered him to return to cell 21, according to the paperwork.

Veale then found Ricardo Gamez unresponsive, according to the report.

"From what it appears, the deputy did do a check of the area, which was indicated by the electronic check-in; he just failed to look into that cell in particular," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said.

"It was poorly done, quite honestly," said Salazar, who took office weeks after Ricardo Gamez's suicide.

The inmate's death came 10 weeks after current and former Sheriff's Office employees voiced concerns that detention officers were cutting corners on required inmate checks, despite the county installing a digital round-checking system.

Sheriff's Office employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said officers were hitting the electronic sensors without always looking into the cells.

The previous administration cast doubt on whether jailers at that time were conducting less-than-thorough checks.

"I don't see how they're cheating the system," said former BCSO Deputy Chief Henry Reyes.

Sheriff's Office records indicate Reyes separated from the agency at the end of last year.

BCSO officials said video of the Ricardo Gamez incident is unavailable because the camera outside the cell was a rotating closed-circuit camera without the ability to record.

Salazar said he is hoping to use grant money later this year to purchase higher-quality cameras and recording devices.

He said he is also in the process of forming a mental health unit within the jail that resembles one currently in the field.

Salazar said the Sheriff's Office has also placed literature within the jail and its video visitation center that encourages inmates and their families to say something if they notice potentially suicidal behavior.

He said custodial deaths are now being handled at the same level that a homicide on the street is handled. A Sheriff's Office detective will be dispatched to process the scene, and jail supervisors have been trained on how to preserve evidence.

The findings will then be presented to the Bexar County District Attorney's Office.

Salazar said that his office, along with the DA, will reinvestigate past custodial deaths, including Ricardo Gamez's.

According to a previous KSAT report, Gomez was arrested for DWI with an elevated blood alcohol content less than a month before Ricardo Gamez killed himself.

Gomez, who served a 45-day suspension for the arrest, is scheduled to appear in court for the DWI Aug. 1, according to Bexar County court records.

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About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.