Bexar County Jail's Fatal Flaws Come to Light
Published: June 5, 2013
One current Bexar County jailer, who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisal, told the Current, “If the Sheriff wanted to crack down on [pencil-whipping], if she wanted to line up, fire, and press charges against every officer that does this, she’d lose about half her jailers.”
During the internal affairs investigation into the death, Flores was asked why he followed the order. “They said something like, ‘Well, if somebody blows through a red light, are you going to do the same?’”
Under normal circumstances, no, of course not. “But if I was following my superiors for over a year, and all we ever did was run red lights, then yeah, of course I’d run one. And I probably wouldn’t think anything of it.”
There have been a number of noticeable changes since Sheriff Pamerleau was sworn in January 1. Her office has insisted she’s trying to be frank about the department’s warts — as of press time, however, Pamerleau declined to be interviewed and her office failed to respond to specific questions from the Current.
Pamerleau has been quick to air the office’s dirty laundry in public. When, within her first month in office, three sheriff’s deputies were arrested for drunk driving, Pamerleau called a press conference to condemn the behavior — the local deputies union, meanwhile, set up a program to provide free cabs for sloshed members needing a ride. Her office alerted reporters last month when, due to an antiquated paper-based system, guards erroneously released an inmate. Pamerleau called another May press conference when Deputy Andreas Aldaña, a nine-year veteran of the department, bit off a portion of another jail guard’s ear during a fight at the lockup. Citing “a pattern of behavior which must be addressed immediately,” Pamerleau announced chaplain and counseling services for deputies. Last Friday, the Sheriff’s communications officer contacted the media after an inmate stabbed a jail detention officer in the leg with “some sort of sharp object.” The inmate was charged with aggrevated assault with a deadly weapon against a public service, a felony.
Tonie Taylor Grindle is quick to say Sheriff Pamerleau handled her brother’s death with care and respect as soon as she took over. At some point this year, Pamerleau brought Grindle into the jail’s booking area so she could see for herself where her brother died.
“That was hard. Literally, his cell was just feet away from a medical unit,” she said. “If he was screened, if the checks were done, medical would have jumped in,” she contended. “If they had been paying attention, I think they could have saved Tommy. I really believe that.”
Whether the reliance on pencil whipping contributed to Taylor’s death may never be known. Diaz, who was one of the officers who put Taylor in isolation and insists he didn’t appear to need medical attention, remarked, “Ernesto’s actions didn’t kill Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor’s drug use killed Mr. Taylor.”
But the internal investigation into Taylor’s death revealed more than just stressed and stretched jailers. Detention officers that spoke with the Current say the incident highlights a deeper problem at the jail that Pamerleau will have to tackle if she’s serious about reform — that working conditions have disintegrated to a point where officers and supervisors alike regularly lie to get by.
“Look, Ernesto was unlucky,” said one current jail guard. “If I had been the one near it (the logbook) that night, they would have told me to fix the books… It could have been anybody.”
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