November 13, 2005
Tell me again who's in charge here

I admit that I haven't been following the story of escaped-and-recaptured death row inmate Charles Victor Thompson very closely, but I was struck with a thought as I read this front-page story on how "lack of supervision" may have led to his escape. I'll get to that thought in a second, but first, consider this:

A Harris County jailer with a long career in law enforcement and a union lawyer described an atmosphere at the jail in which detention officers routinely leave their posts before the end of their shifts a factor Thompson may have capitalized on during his brazen escape from the facility at 1200 Baker.

The jailer, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said some jailers play video games and nap while on duty. The jailer also contends that many routinely leave their posts unmanned well before their shifts are up.

"All of these things, I have personally seen," the jailer said.

A department spokesman said policy dictates that jail employees remain on duty until they are relieved, and the same rule applies to supervisors.

"I don't have any direct knowledge of people leaving early. Especially if they haven't been relieved," said Lt. John Martin, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail. "If that is the case, of course, we need to take appropriate administrative action."


Harris County's four jails are manned by deputies who are fully certified peace officers and unlicensed detention officers, the jailer said. Detention officers serve as rovers or as pod and day-room watchers. Pod watchers are assigned to control centers, or guard stations, and are responsible for monitoring dozens of prisoners at a time.

Rovers move about the jail, responding to emergencies or relieving pod watchers during breaks. Sergeants supervise the rovers and pod watchers.

Sergeants, however, report for work 30 minutes before the detention officers they oversee and leave 30 minutes sooner, the jailer said.

The veteran jailer said some rovers take advantage of the lack of supervision by leaving shortly after their bosses. The jailer suggested that such a lack of supervision, as well as a shortage of deputies around a shift change, may have contributed to the conditions that allowed Thompson to escape.


Richard Cobb, a Fraternal Order of Police lawyer, said there weren't enough deputies on duty to escort Thompson to see the attorney. He said no one was available to escort Thompson to the booth, so one deputy, on his way out for the day, offered to walk Thompson to the booth.

The jailer who spoke on condition of anonymity said rovers frequently must be reminded to lock the visitor's booth doors after escorting inmates to and from the rooms. The jailer also said pod watchers do not have keys to the interview rooms.

"So, a day-shift deputy relieves him and (the rover) just goes home," said the jailer. "And Thompson's just left in there, and the door's not locked just because nobody bothered to lock it."

After his meeting with the attorney, Thompson remained in the unlocked booth where he changed into civilian clothes and shed his handcuffs.

What I want to know is, why don't the words "Sheriff Tommy Thomas" appear anywhere in this story? Yes, I know that Thomas was recovering from eye surgery when Thompson escaped. He has admitted that "there was negligence on our part", and as this story shows, this wasn't a fluke occurrance of unrepeatable conditions. So how come he's not being asked for a comment? If he was and he delegated that task to a spokesman, why isn't that made clear? The Chron editorialists have made it clear that they hold Thomas responsible for what goes on under his watch. When will his feet be held to the fire for this?

When Thomas does get around to answering questions about this, I hope one of them is whether he thinks the unsafe and overcrowded conditions at Harris County jails was a contributing factor in Thompson's escape. Sure is a good thing for Thomas that he was up for reelection in 2004 and not 2006, wouldn't you say?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 13, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

Would a Democrat run agnst him competitively is he was up for election in 2006? I do agree and do often mention that a sheriff if he is doing his job takes the laws from the lege and budget from commissioner's court and should not do the job different if he's Democrat or Republican.

Posted by: Burt Levine on November 13, 2005 5:42 PM

A Democrat, or for that matter a GOP primary opponent, would seem to have a lot more campaign material to work with in 2006 than Guy Clark had in 2004. Whether a Dem could ride that to victory or not would depend in large part on how well he or she made use of that material.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 13, 2005 6:52 PM

What about the court that gave that guy a new trial in the first place?

Posted by: ttyler5 on November 13, 2005 9:02 PM

What about them? They're hardly responsible for the lax procedures in the Harris County jail system.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 13, 2005 10:06 PM

"Whether a Dem could ride that to victory or not would depend in large part on how well he or she made use of that material."

Whether a Dem could ride that to victory or not would depend in large part on how well he or she could get the message out.

So when are ya gonna file?

Posted by: Charles Hixon on November 14, 2005 10:19 AM

A Democrat can win in 7 years, not a day before. Tommy Thomas is the most popular Repubican in Harris County, as the results in 2004 showed (he did better than any other Repub in Harris County). 7 years and 600K and a viable candidate maybe Adrian Garcia?

Posted by: jason murray on January 1, 2006 10:31 PM