Three correctional officers at the Jack Harwell Detention Center were arrested Thursday after allegedly changing documents to make it appear they conducted headcounts following the investigation of a suicide that occurred in the jail.
Michael Crittenden, 24; Milton Walker, 33; and Christopher Simpson, 24, were each arrested on a charge of tampering with government documents, legal documents filed in the case show.
All three are employees of LaSalle Corrections, which operates the Harwell Center.
Surveillance video showed that Crittenden, Walker and Simpson all lied about conducting headcounts in N-Wing in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, according to affidavits filed in the case.
A review was conducted after Michael Angelo Martinez, 25, of Waco, was found early Nov. 1 unresponsive in his single-person cell. Officials are investigating the death as a suicide by asphyxia. Martinez had been in jail since Aug. 18 on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine. He was also being held on a federal detainer, according to county records.
Preliminary autopsy results corroborate officials’ reports that Martinez hanged himself.
Sheriff Parnell McNamara said Martinez was in the section of the jail where inmates are to be checked on every 30 minutes. Walker was reportedly supposed to conduct “observation checks” from 1:05 a.m. through 3:25 a.m. as well as 4:35 a.m. through 6:17 a.m. He signed off on headcount documents at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 31 and 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. the following morning.
“Video surveillance confirmed Walker did not actually conduct headcounts,” an affidavit written by Detective Kimberly King states.
Crittenden and Simpson were also charged for failing to perform headcounts during the early morning hours of Nov. 1 and filling out paperwork that stated they had done them.
McLennan County received a notice of noncompliance Nov. 5 from the state jail commission because inmates known to be mentally ill or suicidal weren’t visited every 30 minutes, according to a report.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards’ report states observations should be performed at least every 30 minutes in areas where inmates are known to be “assaultive, potentially suicidal, mentally ill or who have demonstrated bizarre behavior.”
Brandon Wood, Texas Commission on Jail Standards executive director, said any time there is a death in a jail, the commission reviews standards and operations at the facility.
Wood did not confirm that the commission’s visit that resulted in a noncompliance notice was a direct response to Martinez’s death.
Jails are required to submit a report to the commission any time someone dies in custody. The number of deaths reported in the past five years at the two McLennan County facilities was not available Thursday, Wood said. The Tribune-Herald filed an open records request with the jail commission seeking the number of deaths and number of violations during the last five years at the two facilities in McLennan County.
Wood said the commission did not need to respond for a second visit after another inmate died, because the death was attributed to natural causes. Gerald Reneau, 54, of Bellmead, died Nov. 8 of a heart attack at the McLennan County Jail. He had been booked in about 2 a.m. Nov. 6 on an assault family violence charge.
McLennan County commissioners in June extended their contract with LaSalle Corrections through June 2018 to allow the company to continue operation of the Jack Harwell Detention Center.
The operator of the facility, in this case LaSalle Corrections, is ultimately held responsible, Wood said.
County Judge Scott Felton said his understanding was that any time there is an incident at a jail, the commission conducts a review.
Felton said it’s LaSalle’s responsibility to make any corrections ordered by the state commission. The county hired LaSalle in 2013.
“We have a good working relationship with LaSalle and we’re confident that they’ve corrected the issues that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has written them up on,” Felton said. “We think they’re excellent operators, and unfortunately sometimes things like this happen.”
All three correctional officers remained in jail Friday afternoon in lieu of $5,000 bonds each.