Bexar County Jail's Fatal Flaws Come to Light
Published: June 5, 2013
Jail records say Taylor became verbally combative in holding four hours after he turned himself in and that two guards took him to an isolation cell just after midnight. Someone stopped in to give him food around 1 a.m.
At about 2:15, a guard found Taylor lying facedown and unresponsive in his cell, according to an EMS report. According to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office, Taylor died from a mixture of methadone toxicity and cardiomyopathy, which can result from long-term substance abuse.
Ernesto Flores barely remembers Tommy Taylor. At some point, while running around the jail’s holding area the night he died, Flores thinks he saw Taylor out of the corner of his eye while throwing a combative inmate in a nearby isolation cell.
“I remember him near the floor,” Flores told the Current, possibly reaching to the ground, looking like he was picking something up. “I don’t know when that was. I told [internal affairs] flat-out that I didn’t check on him, that I had to run to finish something else, that I was freaking busy.”
Flores contends he was wrapped up handling inmate transfers during his shift — he estimated he may have been in charge of overseeing the transfer of anywhere between 20 to 80 inmates in any given shift, though he wasn’t sure how many he handled the night Taylor died.
“I was away from that unit 40 to 45 minutes at a time, easy, depending on how many guys I’ve got for transfer,” Flores said. “I don’t know when they think I should have been doing those checks. It was unrealistic for one guy.”
Flores was standing near the logbook when guards found Taylor’s body, he recalled. The floor sergeant, he insists, looked at him and yelled, “Hey Flores, make sure the books are up to date.”
So Flores “pencil-whipped it,” he said, or wrote in cell checks that were never performed. It’s become second nature to guards throughout the jail, according to Flores and current and former guards at the facility that spoke to the Current, who argue that the practice is a side-effect of inadequate staffing and overworked officers.
Taylor died on Flores’ first shift. He worked his mandatory overtime the next shift, and then went home. When he came back the next day, he was put on administrative leave.
Flores says he was honest from the start with internal affairs investigators who questioned him about the death: “I told them I didn’t do those checks, but that I was told to fix the books. I was upfront about that the whole time. I never once tried to lie to them.”
He found out January 8, days after Sheriff Pamerleau was sworn-in, that the office had officially accused him of lying. He was fired in March, but didn’t know about pending criminal action until he read about it in a Current blog post in late April.
“Sure, Ernesto pencil-whipped the books, but he didn’t really have a choice in the matter,” said Ernesto Diaz, who claims the practice was pervasive before he quit in November. “Ernesto was dealing with a broken system.”
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