A Texas prison major has resigned amid an investigation into allegations he orchestrated the planting of two screwdrivers in an inmate’s cell apparently as part of a disciplinary quota system at the Ramsey Unit.
Four other officers at the Brazoria County lock-up were fired in connection with the investigation into the planted evidence, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel.
“This appears to be an isolated incident that started with that major,” Desel said. “All parties involved including that major did not show integrity and did not uphold what is one of this agency’s core values.”
Jennifer Erschabek of Texas Inmate Families Association said the departures offer prisoners’ families confirmation of what they already suspected.
“We’ve been claiming in the past that family members are being set up with these cases, but it’s been so hard to prove — and we finally have the proof,” she said. “I am just so thankful that our voices finally are being heard. We look forward to working with TDCJ to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.”
The quota for writing inmate disciplinary reports came to light in mid-May after the Houston Chronicle obtained copies of an email from Capt. Reginald Gilbert ordering officers to write up prisoners or face disciplinary consequences themselves.
“Effective March 10, 2018, each Sergeant will be required to turn in at least two (2) cases written by officers for a Level 2 Code 35 ‘Unauthorized Storage of Property,'” he wrote. “Two each day is my requirement. Remember this is to be done each workday without exception.”
Any sergeants who missed their daily quota, Gilbert wrote, would face consequences ranging from documenting the oversight on an employee performance log to formal disciplinary action.
A couple hours later, Major Juan Jackson responded, noting that the “below instructions will help greatly in fighting a gig,” which former union president Lance Lowry said is slang for an audit.
Weeks later, prison officials abandoned the quota system, but TDCJ started investigating last month after the Chronicle reported on the short-lived scheme. Officials said they would review all disciplinary cases across the system and look for spikes or abnormalities.
The audit found similar short-lived disciplinary quota systems had once been in place at three other units in recent months, Desel said. “Several” officers were demoted as a result of the probe.
Then on May 25, a prisoner’s mother fired off a letter to TDCJ’s Office of the Inspector General, alleging that her son had been set up with a bogus case by guards at the Ramsey Unit, apparently in connection with the disciplinary quota.
OIG started investigating and determined she was likely correct, Desel said.
Jackson, who’d already been knocked down from major to lieutenant and sent to the hospital unit in Galveston, was walked off the unit Thursday and resigned under investigation. On Friday, Lt. James Thomas, Sgt. Marcos Gallegos and Officer George Wolfe were all recommended for dismissal, and on Monday Sgt. Darryll Winston was recommended for dismissal as well.
Gilbert, who wrote the original email, was later demoted, Desel said.
There is still an ongoing OIG investigation into the matter as well as in internal TDCJ investigation, which will take a broader look at the Ramsey Unit and the prison culture there. Officials will also examine “any and all” disciplinary actions for the last three months involving any of the five employees believed to be involved in the evidence-planting scheme.
“Cases are going to be presented to the special prosecutor’s office,” Desel said. “If there is a determination that there’s violation of the law it’s our intent to see prosecution to the fullest extent of the law for those involved.”
State Rep. James White, the Woodville Republican who chairs the House Corrections Committee, thanked investigators for their work on the case.
“These weren’t just front-line officers,” he said. “These were management folks. We’re very grateful for the work of the OIG and their work in making sure that these staff members will face justice.”