The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of an inmate at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, a privately operated jail owned by McLennan County.
Sheriff Parnell McNamara said the 53-year-old inmate died Friday night from what appears to be natural causes, but investigators are waiting for autopsy results to be returned from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas.
While no administrators from LaSalle Corrections, which operates the jail, returned phone messages Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service identified the inmate as Lorenzo Ochoa-Figueroa, of Zacatecas, Mexico.
The spokesman said Ochoa-Figueroa was being held on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer for illegal entry into the U.S. LaSalle Corrections contracts with the federal government to house its prisoners.
McLennan County Justice of the Peace Brian Richardson, who ordered the autopsy, said Ochoa-Figueroa’s death appears caused by natural causes. He said there were no signs of foul play or trauma. It could be from five to seven weeks before a preliminary autopsy report is returned, Richardson said.
Ochoa-Figueroa’s fiancee, Micaela Gomez, 54, of Taylor, said Ochoa-Figueroa had lived in Texas off and on for 20 years but was a Mexican citizen. She said he was jailed in June on a domestic violence charge against her and was placed in the Williamson County Jail until he was transferred to the Jack Harwell Detention Center eight days ago on the ICE detainer.
They had lived together two years, and she considers Ochoa-Figueroa her common-law husband, Gomez said.
She said a deputy called her at 2:30 a.m. Saturday to inform her of his death.
“They didn’t tell me nothing,” Gomez said. “They just said he passed away.”
Possible health stress
She said after Ochoa-Figueroa was jailed, officials told him he had high blood pressure and he was taking medication. She said she suffers from lung cancer and he was worried about that. The combination of her illness coupled with his incarceration and likely deportation perhaps produced more stress than Ochoa-Figueroa could bear, she said.
“He was a very sweet man,” Gomez said. “He was a hard-working man and he was a good guy.”
Jail officials notified the Texas Commission on Jail Standards of the in-custody death, as required, commission executive director Brandon Wood said. He declined additional comment because of the pending investigation.
The suicide death of an inmate in November 2015 led to the indictment of three guards at the Jack Harwell Detention Center and a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the three former officers and Southwestern Correctional, parent company of LaSalle Corrections.
The parents of Michael Martinez filed the lawsuit last year after their 25-year-old son, who had attempted suicide two months before he was jailed, died at the private jail on State Highway 6.
Three officers, Michael Wayne Crittenden, Milton Edward Walker and Christopher David Simpson, each were indicted on a charge of tampering with government records, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, after an investigation into Martinez’s death.
Officials allege the former guards altered documents after Martinez’s death to make it appear they conducted scheduled inmate checks in the hours leading to the suicide.
Surveillance video showed that Crittenden, Walker and Simpson all lied about conducting head counts in N-Wing in the early morning hours before Martinez’s death, according to records filed in the case. The criminal case against each former officer remains pending, as does the civil lawsuit.