Commission finds issues after reported jail suicides in Texas

Francisco Vasquez (Family Photo)
Francisco Vasquez (Family Photo)

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – A year after her husband was found unconscious in Williamson County Jail and later died, Candy Vasquez still rejects the official finding that Francisco Vasquez, 54, killed himself.

“He loved his family too much to do that. He would never, ever do that to himself,” Candy said.

Cedar Park police arrested Vasquez for DWI on Aug. 8. Police records show the offense as taking place at about three in the afternoon with booking at 4:13 p.m. Jail staff found Vasquez unconscious at 5:04 p.m., according to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. An autopsy lists Vasquez’s time of death as 6:06 p.m. and the manner of death as suicide.

Other families have also lost loved ones in the in the care of jails across the state. A June letter from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards states that between January and June there had been five jail suicides. All five people had screened positive for mental illness, wrote the commission’s executive director in the memo. In four cases, the commission found jailers did not do the required observation and well-being checks, which must be conducted at least once every 30 minutes in cases where an inmate is mentally ill.

“The missed observations were not only excessive but part of a pattern that remains an issue of great concern,” wrote Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission of Jail Standards.

This comes after changes in the wake of the death of Sandra Bland, who died in the Waller County jail following an arrest, which drew nationwide attention. Starting in December, jails in Texas began using new screening and intake forms to help better identify mental illness and help prevent jail suicides.

A family searching for answers

Candy Vasquez says she still catches herself thinking her husband will come home. Candy and her family have been pushing to see video from inside the Williamson County Jail.

The county has denied the family access to the video. A letter obtained by KXAN News outlines the sheriff’s office’s defense for withholding the video. It includes claims that the video contains sensitive or intimate information and argues the video shows the layout of secure areas of the jail.

As the family presses for the video, KXAN checked back in with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. The commission’s executive director, Brandon Wood, confirmed the investigation after the death of Francisco Vasquez did not find deficiencies at the Williamson County Jail. However, the commission did find a violation in an inspection months after the death of Vasquez. In October 2015, a report shows jailers in Williamson County were not doing required face-to-face observations of all inmates every hour. A later inspection found the jail was back in compliance.

“I miss him. I miss my partner for 30 years,” said Candy. “It’s hard. It’s very, very hard to just let it go like that.”

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