BCSO increasing security in jail, retraining officers following hundreds of assaults

Former inmate whose attack was caught on camera said it shouldn't have happened

By Tim Gerber - Reporter/Anchor

SAN ANTONIO - A brutal assault inside the Bexar County Jail last year that was caught on camera is now helping spur changes inside the facility.

The inmate who was attacked said the beating left him scarred physically and emotionally.

The victim contacted the Defenders because he wanted to know what the Sheriff's Office has done to increase security following the incident.

While the incident happened under the previous administration, Sheriff Javier Salazar said hundreds of similar assaults inside the jail have led him to make changes to keep inmates and officers safe inside the jail.

The attack happened in early March 2016.

The former inmate, who does not want to be identified, said he had just been booked for his third DWI and was waiting to go into the jail's banking area when another inmate asked him what time it was. After he answered, the inmate attacked him without warning.

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"I didn't feel any concern for my safety. I was in booking I wasn't in jail yet. I really didn't think that much about it because it was such a high-traffic area that I thought that I was safe," the former inmate said. "The next thing I knew my head was hitting the floor. I heard sirens going off. I felt my head being hit over and over and the right side of my jaw and my ear."

Based on surveillance video of the attack, it took 14 seconds for a deputy to stop the assault by using a stun gun on the assailant, even though another law enforcement official is seen the video standing close by.

"I don't even know what's going on and this guy is just standing there. I guess he's calling for help," the man said while watching the video of the attack. "There was an officer that walked right by, just didn't even do anything."

The victim suffered a broken jaw that required three surgeries to repair and said he now suffers from PTSD.

The assailant, Ronnie Garcia, was charged with aggravated assault -- serious bodily injury.

Garcia was convicted and given five years' probation for the attack.

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"I don't feel that they had enough security. I only saw, like, one guy with a Taser," the victim said. "What's ridiculous about it is the surgeon who went in and fixed my broken jaw told me if I'd been hit a couple times more, or a little bit harder, that I would have been dead. It shouldn't have happened."

The attack was just one of 546 inmate-on-inmate assaults to occur inside the jail in 2016, according to statistics provided by Bexar County Sheriff's Office.

In the first five months of 2017, there have been 248 inmate-on-inmate assaults.

During the same time period BCSO statistics show 66 inmate-on-officer attacks in 2016 and 30 so far this year.

"It's something that shouldn't be allowed to occur," said Sheriff Javier Salazar. "We've made it a point to deal with inmate-on-inmate assaults, inmate-on-officer assaults, a little bit differently than what's been done in years past."
Upon taking office, Salazar said he was uncomfortable with how much freedom inmates have to move around the  jail and decided to make some changes.

"We have increased the presence of our SERT (Special Emergency Response Team) officers within the booking area. Within the banking area as well, we've increased the presence of SERT," Salazar said. "We've relied pretty heavily on the use of mirrors and camera placement in order to make sure we've got eyes where typically there weren't eyes and we're also changing the way we move inmates around within the jail environment."

Salazar said inmates must stay on one side of the hallway when moving through the corridors and must turn and face the wall when officers approach.

"We do that in order to instill a little discipline into their movements, and make sure that we're helping our officers by keeping the tactical advantage when moving around with inmates," Salazar said.

The sheriff said he's also retraining jail staff on watch to be alert for when dealing with inmates.

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"We're definitely retraining many of our officers. We're encouraging them to be more vigilant," Salazar said. "An inmate that's 100 percent compliant one second can be 100 percent noncompliant the next second, and even violent, and so it takes but a split second to turn that switch. So we're definitely encouraging our officers to be more vigilant."

Salazar said jail supervisors are also being trained to preserve crime scenes inside the jail so detectives can conduct more thorough investigations, so they can file charges against inmates who commit crimes inside the jail. 

Bottom line, regardless of why someone is in the jail, Salazar said it's his agency's responsibility to keep that person safe until they have their day in court or are transferred to another facility to do their time.

"We owe it to that person, we owe it to their families, we owe it to the taxpayers to make sure that person is safe and secure at all times," Salazar said.

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