A man in custody at the Harris County Jail died Sunday after a fight with another inmate late Friday, officials said.
Staff found Fred Harris, 19, “unresponsive and severely injured” at 11:16 p.m. Friday in a holding cell on the third floor of the 1200 Baker St. jail facility, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office reported Monday.
Officials transported Harris to Ben Taub Hospital, where he died two days later, the 18th inmate to die in the custody of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office this year.
Michael Ownby, 25, was charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury following the fight. He remained in custody Monday. It was not immediately clear what caused the animus between Harris and Ownby, officials said
Harris was in jail awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The Texas Rangers will investigate his death.
Late Monday, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez addressed Harris’ death, calling it a “tragedy,” that “adds to the increasing number of lives taken violently in every corner of our society this year.”
“We are determined to ensure that his killer faces justice,” he continued, “and we extend our condolences to Mr. Harris’ family.”
Harris’ death comes as an increasing number of Texas inmates have died in the state’s jails. Last year, at least 124 people died in Texas lockups, according to state data — the highest number since the state began tracking that information more than a decade ago.
The state lockups have come under increasing scrutiny after several high-profile deaths in past years, such as the 2015 death of Sandra Bland, who died by suicide in Waller County jail three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop for a minor traffic violation.
Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood said the state agency was aware of the death and investigation.
“It was reported to us and is under investigation,” he said.
The 19-year-old is the latest inmate to die in the custody of the sheriff’s office this year. One prominent criminal justice reform advocate called the incident an “unspeakable tragedy.”
“The ruthless human caging of the poorest people in Houston has killed another teenager,” said Alec Karakatsanis, Executive Director of the Civil Rights Corps and a vocal critic of the county’s criminal justice system and jail operation.
In September, an inmate died by apparent suicide in the Harris County jail. Staff found Billy Dunn, 47, hanging from a bed sheet midday on Sept. 29 in a single-person cell in the department’s jail facility at 701 N. San Jacinto St.
Last month, a man arrested by Harris County sheriff’s deputies died at the county’s Joint Processing Center after being tased, prompting an advocate for the incarcerated to criticize a “culture of punishment and neglect in the Harris County Sheriff’s office.”
The man was later identified as 42-year-old Kenneth Anderson. The department’s in-custody death report states deputies responded to a single vehicle crash. They detained Anderson, the driver and lone occupant of the car, and put him into a police car, “where he refused to allow deputies to close the door.” In response, a deputy stunned him with a Taser stun gun “to gain compliance.”
Paramedics assessed Anderson and cleared him to be taken to the jail. After Anderson arrived, he became unresponsive, according to state records. Jail staff performed CPR and called paramedics, who took him to St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Earlier this year, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez fired 11 employees and suspended six others in connection with the death of a young man who was reportedly beaten by detention officers and later died in his cell during February’s deep freeze.