Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just another death in the Harris County Jail

On January 16, 2011, Norman Hicks was assaulted by a detention officer in the Harris County Jail. Christopher Pool hit Mr. Hicks in the face and left him lying on the floor bleeding. Six days later Mr. Hicks was dead as a result of complications from a heart attack after suffering a broken nose and blunt force trauma.

Two days after he was beaten by Officer Pool, Mr. Hicks was charged with the felony offense of harassment  in a correctional facility. The criminal complaint alleged that he threw a shirt covered with feces and urine at detention officer Pool on January 7, 2011.

It can hardly be a coincidence that nine days later Mr. Hicks, who was 72 at the time, found himself on the wrong end of Officer Pool's fist.

But what is not clear from the Harris County District Clerk's website is why Mr. Hicks was in jail in the first place. While he had been jailed for violating a protective order in 2010, there are no records of what he was charged with that landed him in jail in January. In September of 2010 a motion to adjudicate guilt in a felony domestic violence case was dismissed. Mr. Hicks was scheduled to appear for a review of his probation conditions on the mental health docket on the 18th - it was noted in the records that he was absent that day.

Mr. Hicks had a history of mental illness and had been jailed before on charges involving domestic violence.

On September 14, 2011, a Harris County Grand Jury cleared Officer Pool of any wrongdoing in the death of Mr. Hicks. It would seem to me that one could make a very compelling case that Officer Pool plotted his revenge after the alleged incident on January 7 and, when he had the opportunity, punched Mr. Hicks, almost 50 years his senior, in the face and then left him on the floor covered in blood.

But no one in the District Attorney's Office wanted to see a detention officer charged with criminally negligent homicide for killing an inmate. That would be too unseemly. But, they couldn't dismiss the case because the fallout from the community would be too great. So, someone decided to give a half-assed presentation to the grand jury so that Pat Lykos could blame the grand jury for no-billing Officer Pool if there was any outrage at the dismissal.

Now Mr. Pool, another detention officer and a sheriff's deputy have appealed their firings.

While Mr. Pool was no-billed by a grand jury, the fact remains that he used more force than was necessary in response to Mr. Hicks' actions. His callous act of punching Mr. Hicks in the face and leaving him on the ground unresponsive should give everyone pause. Is this the kind of person we want roaming the streets of Harris County carrying a loaded weapon and a taser? What would the reaction from prosecutors have been if the incident didn't involve a detention officer and an inmate? Would Joe Blow have been no-billed had he done the same thing to a neighbor who threw a feces-covered shirt at him?

The other two individuals were fired for not doing anything to help Mr. Hicks and for not reporting what they had seen. They both knew what Mr. Pool did was wrong. They both saw that Mr. Hicks was lying on the flood bleeding. And they both stood around and did absolutely nothing.

It's hard to decide whose conduct was worse.

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