A detention officer formerly employed at Harris County Jail was indicted on Thursday with a felony charge of manslaughter in connection to the passing of a jail inmate in February 2021. This is the first time a detention officer has been criminally charged for an in-custody death at the jail.
Eric Niles Morales, aged 28 and hailing from Houston, has been accused of the death of Jaquaree Simmons, a 23-year-old resident of Houston. The inmate was discovered to be unconscious in his prison cell during Winter Storm Uri on February 17, 2021.
According to the Harris County medical examiner, the cause of death for Simmons was determined to be blunt-force trauma to his head. In response to the investigation, the Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez terminated the employment of 11 detention officers and suspended six others.
Out of all the people involved, Morales is the only one who has been charged with the incident.
On February 10, 2021, law enforcement officials stated that Simmons had been detained and incarcerated on the charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon.
Six days later, the investigators revealed that Simmons had blocked the toilet in his cell with his own clothes, causing it to overflow and flood his cell. As a result, correctional officers had to enter his cell to clean up the mess, which then caused a physical altercation between Simmons and the detention officers.
Simmons was then detained in the cell without any articles of clothing, which is against the jail’s policy. Later that night, Simmons hurled his meal tray at one of the officers, and lunged at him.
In order to restrain him and take him to a medical assessment, the officer punched Simmons in the face and requested for help. During the process of handcuffing and removing Simmons from the cell, he was struck multiple times in the head. After the medical examination, Simmons was taken back to his cell.
Following the altercation, the inmate was left unsupervised due to a winter storm that had caused a power outage. The detention officers failed to conduct mandatory visual checks.
The following day, Simmons was discovered in an unconscious state on the ground of his cell, and was eventually declared dead at a nearby medical facility.