Texas sheriff responds to chaotic month mired by jail deaths, birth in cell
Sheriff Bill Waybourn called recent headlines about the Tarrant County Jail "sensationalized or unclear on facts"
By Nichole Manna
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
TARRANT COUNTY, Texas — After releasing few details about the Tarrant County Jail temporarily losing state certification and an inmate giving birth in her jail cell without anyone knowing, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office addressed these incidents and more on Facebook Thursday evening.
The post called recent headlines about the incidents “sensationalized or unclear on facts” and gives more details about recent happenings at the jail: A suicide in April, an inmate dying of COVID-19, an inmate who gave unassisted birth in May, and the six-day loss of its state certification — all which happened between April 26 and May 23.
“We want to take a minute to share that additional information and inform our followers,” the post says.
The Sheriff’s Department did not release information about these events until the Star-Telegram asked them after receiving tips.
On April 27, the sheriff’s office issued a news release after a reporter inquired about a suicide that happened the day before.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office listed 50-year-old Dean Stewart’s cause of death as hanging and the manner of death as suicide. He was arrested on April 5, a suspect in a road rage shooting where the victim was uninjured, according to police records.
Stewart suffered from serious mental instability, his brother said, explaining that police knew about his long history of mental illness. He argued they should have taken him someplace where he could have received appropriate mental health treatment or that he should have been monitored more closely while he was in the jail.
“He didn’t have his medication,” Dean Stewart’s brother Kerry Stewart told the Star-Telegram. “It wasn’t like he was a crazy person. When he was on his medication, you would never know. How could they, why would they have put someone in jail knowing that this was his situation?”
As required, the Texas Rangers investigated the death and a review by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards concluded that the jail violated a policy of face-to-face checks every 30 minutes for certain inmates. The jail hasn’t said how long Stewart was left without checks. The state declined to release additional information.
Another press release was issued on Thursday, after the Star-Telegram inquired on Tuesday about the revoked certification.
“Because of the missed check, we were found to be out of compliance with Jail Standards on May 21, 2020,” the sheriff’s office said on Facebook. “This is a routine response by TCJS when standards in a jail are found to be out of compliance.”
Jail officials sent a plan of action to the state and their certification was activated on Wednesday. A revoked certification could lead to fines depending on the violations. No fines were given to the sheriff’s office.
When the Star-Telegram asked for a copy of the plan of action, and asked how the jail is ensuring that inmates are checked during the appropriate times, spokeswoman Lt. Jennifer Gabbert said via email, “Our jail is back in compliance and certified according to Mr. Wood at Texas Commission on Jail Standards,” referring to Brandon Wood, executive director at TCJS.
During the investigation by the state into Stewart’s death, a pregnant inmate gave birth alone in her jail cell on May 17.
The sheriff’s office released a few details on Wednesday when asked about it by a Star-Telegram reporter, saying that jailers weren’t alerted about the birth and that the baby was found shortly after the delivery. On Thursday, the office said the woman was in a medical cell alone. The sheriff’s office has not answered a series of questions about the birth, including: How long after the last check was the baby discovered?
The mother was booked back into jail after being checked out at the hospital. The condition of her baby has not been released. The mother has been jailed since January on a charge of assault on a family member and a charge of injury to child/elder/disabled. She’s being held without bond.
“Though there is no indication of wrong-doing on the part of corrections staff, the investigation is still on-going and additional details are not available at this time,” the sheriff’s office wrote.
Wood said the state is investigating another incident that happened in the jail in May, but declined to disclose details.
On May 23, a 67-year-old inmate died at John Peter Smith Hospital from COVID-19 and underlying issues. He was originally booked into Tarrant County Jail in February on two counts of DWI felony repetition and was being held without bond.
He had been hospitalized for 20 days before his death. His identity has not been released.
Forty-one inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19. In total, 102 inmates have recovered.
©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram