Authorities are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a Texas inmate who was killed inside an East Texas prison during a statewide lockdown. The details surrounding the incident remain unclear, and investigators are working to determine what exactly happened.
According to Hannah Haney, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Billy Chemirmir, the suspect charged with killing 22 elderly women and one man in North Texas, has been found dead in his cell on Tuesday. Officials believe that he was killed by his cellmate. The Dallas Morning News was the first to report on the incident, which occurred late on Wednesday.
Chermirmir served time at the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, a community located east of Palestine with a capacity of 3,818 beds. This particular unit experienced another violent altercation between an inmate and staff just a day before the Texas Department of Criminal Justice declared a statewide lockdown of all 100 prisons.
According to The Texas Tribune, a correctional officer was stabbed by an inmate in a high security unit at the Coffield Unit on September 5. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) officers reacted to the incident with disproportionate force, and Amanda Hernandez, a spokesperson for the prison system, confirmed that proper protocols were not followed.
Following an internal review of the incident, a total of seven correctional officers were terminated from their positions, and six officers chose to resign.
According to her statement, the inmate is currently receiving medical care at the hospital, and the matter has been referred to the Office of Inspector General for criminal investigation.
The name of the inmate who was hospitalized after being beaten by correctional officers has not been released by TDCJ.
According to reports from the agency, on September 5th, Uriel Neri, a 29-year-old inmate, was killed by other inmates at the Mark W. Stiles Unit in Beaumont, which is around 200 miles away. The agency is still investigating the incident.
On September 6, TDCJ declared a systemwide lockdown of all 100 prisons, right after the reported violent incidents. According to the agency, the lockdown was not implemented because of the incidents, but rather to limit the movement of their 129,000 inmates and conduct thorough searches for contraband. The lockdown was intended to last until the authorities were confident that the danger had passed.
Hernandez cited the 16 inmate homicides that occurred this year as the leading cause for implementing the lockdown.
According to Hernandez, the decision to implement the measure was a result of the rise in homicides. He stated that last year there were seven homicides, while the year before that there were nine.
Throughout the duration of the lockdown, the agency has conducted extensive searches in 50 state prisons to uncover any contraband items. As a result of these efforts, prison officials have successfully confiscated a multitude of forbidden items including 196 cellphones, 34.5 gallons of alcohol, 274 weapons, and varying amounts of amphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, PCP, and synthetic marijuana.
According to Hernandez, the TDCJ Office of Inspector General has opened over 500 criminal investigations related to illegal activities involving inmates, staff, and prison visitors to date.
As of now, 50 of the state’s prisons have resumed regular operations, including visitations. You can find more information about this on the official website of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
According to prison advocates, the current lockdown in Texas prisons may be doing more harm than good. Reports of inedible food, limited access to showers, and extreme isolation are emerging from the prison system, raising concerns about the well-being of inmates. Compounding these issues is the fact that over two-thirds of Texas prisons lack air conditioning, and the restriction of movement and showers during temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside could lead to increased unrest inside.
According to a spokesperson for TDCJ, inmates are provided with ice water at regular intervals throughout the day, and they can access water through the sinks in their cells.
According to Michele Deitch, the director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, while she appreciates the agency’s attempts to address the issue of violence within the prison system, she thinks that implementing a statewide lockdown was a drastic measure.
According to her, the current approach is akin to using a hammer to solve a problem that requires a scalpel. She believes that this heavy-handed approach will only lead to additional problems that will need to be addressed in the future.
According to Deitch, implementing a prison lockdown means that inmates are prohibited from contacting their loved ones. She highlighted that such a measure will result in a significant amount of mental stress, which will continue to affect the prison system long after the lockdown has been lifted.
According to the speaker, being confined with just one other person in a small space, which is essentially a bathroom, results in a lot of tension. The inability to leave the cell or engage in recreational activities only adds to the stress. This tension ultimately leads to increased violence among cellmates and dorm mates, as well as strained relationships between the incarcerated individuals and the staff.
According to the state prison agency officials, there have been 16 inmate homicides this year. However, the custodial death reports available online at oag.my.site.com show only 11 homicides as of now. This discrepancy is due to the fact that the agency records available online were filed before the TDCJ officials received the final toxicology and autopsy reports from local hospitals and medical centers, as explained by Hernandez.
According to reports from TDCJ, 20 inmates have lost their lives since the start of the lockdown. Of these incidents, 13 were classified as “natural” causes, while four cases are awaiting autopsy results and three individuals took their own lives. It’s important to note that this number excludes the murder of Chemirmir, as the custodial death report was not available as of Thursday morning.
Last week, The Texas Tribune was contacted by loved ones and acquaintances of prisoners who expressed their worry about the high temperatures inside the facilities, insufficient access to cold water, and inadequate food portions.
According to a concerned parent of an inmate, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid any repercussions towards her son, this will mark the second prolonged lockdown that Hughes Unit has experienced in the last six months. She shared that during the previous lockdown, her son had lost a considerable amount of weight and even developed claustrophobia due to the confined space and high temperatures, which reportedly reached up to 106 degrees. Unfortunately, it seems that history is repeating itself once again, causing great distress for both the inmates and their loved ones.
Prisoners in Texas are taking to TikTok to share videos of the food they are being served during the statewide lockdown. Many of these videos depict the food as inedible, with prisoners expressing their frustration and dissatisfaction.
According to the spokesperson for the prison agency, Hernandez, the claims of inadequate food quality within their correctional facilities are baseless. Hernandez dismissed the videos and images circulating online, stating that they do not accurately depict the meals served to the inmate population.
According to a TDCJ representative, their team is closely monitoring the food quality and quantity across the state. In the event of a lockdown, inmates are provided with three meals daily, with one meal being a hot dish. Furthermore, to improve the sack meals, TDCJ is including items from the commissary twice a week.