After Multiple Jailers Died Of Covid, Dallas County Forced Others To Keep Working Overtime

Michael Murney
Two Dallas County Jail staff died from COVID-19 in mid-August after weeks of serving multiple consecutive 16-hour shifts every week in Dallas County Jail. Their colleagues say threats from superiors have kept them silent—and that their exhausted state is depriving inmates of crucial healthcare and legal resources.
On Aug. 1, Porsha Bookman took to Facebook to voice her gripes about her job at Dallas County Jail.

“I just got mandated again!!!!” Bookman posted on Aug. 1. She included the hashtags #wannabefree and #8morehourstogo.

Nineteen days later, the 36-year-old died of COVID-19 complications.

Five days before her death, another Dallas County detentions officer died of complications from COVID-19. Darren Finney perished on Aug. 19, leaving behind two children.

Both Bookman and Finney died after months of "mandated" 16-hour shifts. Jailers confirmed they all signed up for two 16-hour shifts a week, but are now being forced to work up to five in a row on a regular basis. 

On Aug. 20, one day after Bookman’s death, the Dallas Service Officers’ Twitter account, which is run by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, tweeted a message of condolence to the families of Bookman and Finney. The tweet made no mention of Bookman's and Finney's causes of death.

“@Dallas_Sheriff recently lost two Detention Service Officers. #DSODamonFinney on Aug 14th and DSO #DSOPorshaBookman on Aug 19th. Please keep the family members and their co-workers in your thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time of loss,” the tweet read.

Bookman's and Finney's deaths mark the most deadly consequences of the coercive practices the county has undertaken to keep Dallas County Jail staffed since the pandemic began.

Multiple jailers told the Observer that jailers have been intimidated by threats of Dallas County Sheriff’s Office Jail Internal Affairs investigations into working 16-hour shifts for up to five consecutive days. Threats continued even when they presented written doctors’ orders limiting their work hours.

Only a week or so before Finney’s death, another Dallas County DSO (who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution), was finishing up a fourth consecutive day of 16-hour shifts. The officer had worked since the afternoon the day before, and felt himself struggling to stay conscious as he made rounds inside his assigned pod of inmates.

"#iwannabefree" - Porsha Bookman, Dallas County Jail

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The officer was relieved when his final shift ended in early August. Exhausted, they nodded off behind the wheel while driving home, smashing their Camry into a fire hydrant a few minutes from home.

The physician the officer saw after the accident said “it is critical that this patient be allowed AT LEAST 12 consecutive hours off each day for the next to weeks to obtain adequate sleep, or he his at risk for serious harm and disability,” medical records obtained by the Observer show.

After those two weeks had passed, the officer returned to the doctor for another assessment. The doctor issued written instruction saying the officer needed at least three more weeks without 16-hour shifts to recover from the exhaustion that caused the crash.

His supervisors weren’t having it.

On Sept. 9, less than a month after his colleague Damon Finney died of COVID-19, the officers’ ranking lieutenant told him, “If you can’t work the 16 hours, you can’t work,” they said.

Multiple other officers also described being threatened with reduced or eliminated work hours for failing to comply with “mandated” consecutive 16-hour shifts.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Observer. Multiple County Commissioners have also declined to speak on record or ignored repeated requests for comment.

Emmanuel Lewis, an officer at Dallas County Jail, said the pressures on officers end up punishing inmates.

“The inmates aren’t getting the quality care. If they’re in a fight, they’re not getting the quality response time,” said Lewis.

"That’s not good for their safety. They’re not getting the cleaning supplies they need, they’re not getting to go to court when they need to,” he said.