Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The Bexar County Adult Detention Center received news Tuesday that it was officially back in compliance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Sheriff Javier Salazar said at a news conference.
The jail had failed two inspections, one in February and another in May. The state commission gives out-of-compliance jails one year to fix problems it finds through its inspections. In February, the commission found nine errors. One of the most egregious was the failure of jailers to check in on inmates frequently enough. In May, the commission found another failure to do the same thing.
Salazar told reporters on Tuesday that his office visited the jail standards commission last week to update committee members on steps that they took to get the jail back in compliance.
“Friday morning, our surprise re-inspection came up, and it went really well,” Salazar said. “Today it was made it official, that we have passed our state jail inspection and are now back in compliance.”
The jail standards commission has not released its final report yet, but Salazar said he was told the Adult Detention Center was back in compliance on Tuesday morning. The word came on the heels of two inmate deaths Monday. Rondell Lee Peterson, a 35-year-old charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, was taken off life support after a suicide attempt on Nov. 2, while David Alan Watts, a 72-year-old who was convicted last month of indecency with a child, died after suffering from an “apparent medical episode,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Commission Executive Director Brandon Wood said the report would likely be processed in a day or two. The jail will continue to be inspected annually, he said, and any deaths that happen while inmates are in custody still need to be reported to the jail standards commission.
“Every time there’s a death in custody or serious incident, there’s a review to see if there are any violation of administrative rules,” Wood said. “You could be certified one day and report a death in custody the next and [if there’s a violation,] you can be decertified that next day.”
The Bexar County jail reported inmate deaths to the jail standards commission while it was out of compliance. Between December 2018 and August 2019, nine inmates died while in custody, six of whom died while the jail was noncompliant with state commission standards.
The jail also has struggled with unplanned releases of inmates, though Salazar emphasized that mistaken releases were not a result of the jail’s failure, but of the release process.
“While it’s been certainly negligence on the part of individual employees, it’s a matter of making sure that we’re tightening down our training procedures,” he said.
Because many people and agencies are involved with release paperwork, everyone in the assembly line needs to be aware of the procedures, he said.
“When you touch that work product so many times, you need to know and be fully aware that any little mistake on your part can affect the next person or the next person after them,” he said. “And so we’re needing to make sure that we are doing our best to tighten that pipeline up as much as possible, not just within our own agency, but within others.”
As part of the sheriff’s office’s efforts to stay in compliance, Salazar hired a deputy chief in detention administration at the end of October. Jaime Rios is one of three jail administrators on staff, and Salazar plans to announce Rios’ new role as chief of compliance and support soon, which means Rios will focus on keeping the jail in compliance. Joel Janssen will continue as chief of operations at the jail, while Avery Walker will oversee the two of them as jail superintendent.
“That’s a really good mix we have there – of people, of skill sets, and of personalities and everything,” Salazar said. “Without overdramatizing it, I have what I consider to be a dream team.”
As the jail continues to manage roughly 4,100 inmates, Salazar said that his office will look for ways to divert people, such as those charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, from jail if possible.
“I’m a big fan of using our jail space for what it’s intended for,” Salazar said. “It’s intended to keep society safe. It’s not intended to lock [people] up and throw away the key indefinitely. That not what we’re here for.”