Yet Another Dallas County Jail Inmate on Suicide Watch Died Last Week

Another Dallas County Jail inmate on suicide watch died just last week - weeks after state inspectors flagged the jail for inadequate monitoring of mental health inmates.
Another Dallas County Jail inmate on suicide watch died just last week - weeks after state inspectors flagged the jail for inadequate monitoring of mental health inmates. Pixabay
Amid an ongoing staffing shortage at Dallas County Jail, a man held there died while on suicide watch early on Friday, according to internal county records.

At the time of his death, Terry Stewart was being housed in solitary confinement in a cell in the jail's suicide watch wing. A jailer's report says staff members weren’t aware of the crisis happening in Stewart’s cell until another inmate alerted them to it.

The jailer who filed the incident report documenting Stewart’s death says that he found Stewart “laying in a pool of blood.” Parkland Hospital System EMT’s reached Stewart’s cell at 4:48 a.m.; it took another 25 minutes before he was carried into an ambulance. It’s unclear from the report and other jailers’ testimony what Stewart might have used to draw his own blood in such volume, or how he managed to do so while incarcerated in a suicide watch unit.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, whose district includes the jail, said that backlogs in county criminal courts are responsible, at least in part, for the issues with monitoring and staffing the jail has faced in the past several months.

“If we’re backlogged at the courts level, the jail is going to feel the impacts of that backlog,” said Price, who was unaware of Stewart's death on Friday.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s custodial death report, which documents reported deaths in Texas jails and prisons across the state, didn't include any mention of Stewart’s death.

After two separate inspections of Dallas County Jail last month, state inspectors determined the jail failed to maintain conditions that meet Texas’ minimum requirements.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards officials listed inadequate monitoring of inmates on suicide watch first among the list of violations in their report, which had not been made public when the Observer first published the details of the inspection last Tuesday.

The commission has since added Dallas County Jail and the accompanying report to the statewide list of noncompliant jails on its website, nearly three weeks after the conclusion of the initial inspection and at least two weeks after the report was delivered to county officials. Decades-long veteran jailers told the Observer that the lack of transparency surrounding Dallas County Jail’s final grade was highly unusual.

The commission's report requires the sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail, to implement corrections to its monitoring practices in the suicide watch units of the jail “upon receipt of this notice," which occurred on Feb. 23, according to the date listed on the report.

Stewart's death comes only a few months after Deron Tolbert, who was also in the jail's suicide watch unit, died in December. According to reports at the time, jailers were also unaware of the emergency situation in his isolation cell until other inmates housed nearby caught their attention.

A Washington Post investigation recently found that pandemic-driven delays in court adjudications have persisted throughout the two years since COVID-19 first hit.

Neither the Texas Attorney General's Office nor the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office responded to requests for comment.
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Michael Murney is a staff writer at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney

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