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Families with loved ones that died in Harris County Jail may be able to seek justice & compensation

Families with loved ones that died in Harris County Jail may be able to seek justice & compensation

  • In 2023, so far 3 inmates have already died in custody in the jail
  • In 2022, 28 inmates died in custody, including 25 under the jail's care. It was the highest number of annual inmate deaths in a decade
  • Critics and reports claim overcrowding is a serious issue in Harris County Jail
  • Recently Harris County Jail's top leader resigned amid overcrowding and deaths
  • Advocates are calling for action and families are demanding justice for their loved ones
  • Those with family members may be able to seek justice and compensation for the loss of their loved ones

A man died in Harris County Jail after an altercation with jail staff, marking the facility’s first in-custody death of 2023.

Jacoby Pillow, 31, was arrested Sunday afternoon for trespassing—a misdemeanor offense—and brought to Harris County Jail, where he was ordered to be interviewed for a mental health evaluation, according to court records.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office says Pillow was set to be released on a $100 personal bond early Tuesday morning but the process was interrupted when Pillow allegedly assaulted a detention officer—which resulted in Pillow being hit with an additional charge, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, jail staff “used force” to restrain Pillow and brought him back to his cell after being evaluated by medical personnel.

The next morning, Pillow was found unresponsive in his cell and taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:12 a.m.

The Sheriff's Office says the Houston Police Department is leading a criminal investigation into the incident, while an internal investigation is being conducted by the Sheriff's Office to “determine whether all departmental policies and procedures were followed.”

Also, Kevin Smith died while in custody at the jail.

The 23-year-old was facing sexual abuse of a child charge that was filed in July 2022. 

However, his mom, Tracy Woodson-Smith, said the case continued to get reset.

Smith was due back in court later this week for a bond hearing. Woodson-Smith said she believed the charge would have eventually been dropped.

Smith had a 2-year-old daughter, Ka'Nayaa.

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The Texas Commission on Jail Standards—the state agency responsible for enforcing minimum jail standards for construction, maintenance, and operation—also found the jail out of compliance twice in the latter half of 2022: once Sept. 7 for keeping 64 inmates in temporary holding cells for longer than 48 hours, and again Dec. 19 for failing to provide an inmate insulin.

Jason Spencer, the spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed the identity of that inmate as 28-year-old Matthew Shelton, whose autopsy determined he died on March 27 of diabetic ketoacidosis.

Shelton was one of 27 people who died in Harris County in the custody of the HCSO last year, the highest number since 23 deaths in 2006, according to data from the Texas Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that collects and maintains criminal justice data.

Jail reform advocates — like Krishnaveni Gundu, the executive director of the Texas Jail Project — have blamed the facility's bloated population for the increased number of deaths within the jail.

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