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Texas Civil Rights Project Galveston County Jail Refusal to Evacuate Inmates During Hurricane Ike 2009

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SHELTER FROM THE STORM?
GALVESTON COUNTY’S REFUSAL TO EVACUATE
DETAINEES AND INMATES AT ITS JAIL
DURING HURRICANE IKE
The Texas Civil Rights Project’s
2009 Human Rights Report

Tribune’s Washington Bureau: The Swamp, Hurricane Ike alarm recalls Katrina, (2008). 
http://blogs.trb.com/news/politics/blog/assets_c/2008/09/Hurricane%20Ike%20satellit
e%20image%20small‐thumb‐425x318.jpg

September 2009

Special thanks to Leanne Heine, Cathryn Ibarra, Lauren Izzo, Scott Medlock,
Robin O’Neil and Zaida Riquelme, who collaborated on this report.

Texas Civil Rights Project
The Michael Tigar Human Rights Center
1405 Montopolis Drive
Austin, TX 78741
Texas Civil Rights Project Board of Directors
Ed Hernandez, David Grenardo, Pablo Almaguer, Carmen Rodriguez, Roxann Chargois, Ceclilia
Mendoza, and Chuck Herring
www.texascivilrightsproject.org
(512) 474 5073 (phone) (512) 474 0726 (fax)

© Texas Civil Rights Project, 2009
All Rights Reserved

 

 
2

Executive Summary
As Hurricane Ike barreled towards Galveston Island in September 2008, city and county
authorities ordered mandatory evacuations, and warned anyone remaining on the island faced
“certain death.” Despite this peril, Galveston County intentionally chose not to evacuate the
approximately 1,000 people imprisoned in the Galveston County Jail. This decision caused
immense human suffering in the jail, though fortunately not the untimely deaths of any prisoners,
as occurred when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Orleans Parish Prison just three years earlier.
The physical structure of the jail survived the storm, but Galveston’s decimated infrastructure
was unable to provide basic human necessities like water and sanitation to the prisoners in the
weeks following Ike’s landfall.
The County’s refusal to evacuate the jail is especially shocking because most people
imprisoned in the jail are pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of any crime, or people
who have only committed minor offenses. Virtually all the pre-trial detainees would have been
eligible to make bail and be released from the jail. Had the County chosen to do so, personal
recognizance bonds could have been issued to these prisoners to allow them to get out of Ike’s
path with their families.

In shocking contrast, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

evacuated almost 7,000 convicted prisoners in State prisons located in neighboring counties,
including many prisoners guilty of committing violent felonies. In short, the majority of the
people in the Galveston County jail who felt Ike’s fury remained in the jail because of their
poverty, not the nature of their alleged offenses.
Galveston County’s shocking decision to not evacuate the jail shows the County’s
attitude towards prisoners. When the County decided to evacuate the island “to alleviate the
suffering of the people,” it did not consider the human beings in the jail “people.”

 

 
3

SHELTER FROM THE STORM?
GALVESTON COUNTY’S REFUSAL TO EVACUATE
DETAINEES AND INMATES AT ITS JAIL
DURING HURRICANE IKE

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction................................................................................................................................................... 5
The Not-So-Calm Before the Storm ............................................................................................................. 8
Ike’s Fury ...................................................................................................................................................... 9
The Aftermath............................................................................................................................................. 11
A. Sanitation .......................................................................................................................................... 12
B. Water ................................................................................................................................................. 13
C. Food................................................................................................................................................... 15
D. Communications ............................................................................................................................... 15
E. Guard/Detainee/Inmate Dynamics .................................................................................................... 16
F. Health................................................................................................................................................. 17
Response ..................................................................................................................................................... 19
The Fallout .................................................................................................................................................. 21
APPENDIX................................................................................................................................................. 23
Interview with Mr. James Carl Willis..................................................................................................... 24
Interview with Mr. Jim Brown................................................................................................................ 25
Interview with Mr. Lawrence Rodriguez ................................................................................................ 26
Interview with Mr. Leonard Rodriguez .................................................................................................. 28
Interview with Mr. Mason Reginald ....................................................................................................... 30
Interview with Mr. Michael Shane Smith............................................................................................... 31
Interview with Mr. Ray Lazare ............................................................................................................... 33
Interview with Ms. Denise Yvette Forteson ........................................................................................... 34

 

 
4

Human Rights Report
Shelter from the Storm?
Galveston County’s Refusal to Evacuate Detainees and Inmates
at Its Jail During Hurricane Ike
Introduction
On September 10, 2008, as Hurricane Ike gained strength offshore, County Judge James
D. Yarbrough issued an order, declaring a state of disaster for Galveston County 1 :
“Extraordinary measures must be taken to alleviate the suffering of the people.” 2 In turned out,
however, that the County was concerned with the suffering of only some of its people – not the
approximately one thousand detainees and inmates it confined in its jail.
That same day, the County issued a mandatory evacuation order for the western part of
Galveston Island, because Hurricane Ike “threatens the life and safety of persons” in Galveston
County. 3 Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas extended application of the mandatory evacuation order to
the whole island. 4 The National Weather Service warned those on the Gulf-facing side of the
island not planning to evacuate faced “certain death.” 5
Based on the projected path and category of Hurricane Ike, the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice (TDCJ) began staging resources for the evacuation of thirteen units on Monday
morning, September 9, four days before Ike made landfall.6 Besides evacuating eight state prison
facilities, TDCJ evacuated one Texas Youth Commission facility in Beaumont, two halfway
                                                            
1

  James  D.  Yarbrough,  County  Judge  of  Galveston  County,  Texas,  Declaration  of  Local  State  of 
Disaster for the County of Galveston, Texas Due to Hurricane Ike (Sept. 10, 2008).   
2

 Id. 

3

  James  D.  Yarbrough,  County  Judge  of  Galveston  County,  Texas,  Order  of  Mandatory  Evacuation 
from Areas of Galveston County, Texas Due to Hurricane Ike (Sept. 10, 2008). 
4

  Khou.com,  Galveston  Braces  for  Possible  Hit  from  Ike,  Sept.  12,  2008, 
http://www.khou.com/topstories/stories/ khou080911_tnt_houston_ike_general.659ae065.html 
5

 Id. 

6

 Id.  

 

 
5

houses, a transitional treatment center, and “high risk” parolees. 7 The eight prison facilities
housed prisoners of all custody levels — high-risk prisoners in Administrative Segregation down
to prisoners in Trusty Camps (low-risk, good behavior) and those needing medical treatment
were brought to different prison facilities out of harm’s way. 8 County jails on the other hand,
such as the Galveston County Jail, house only those convicted of a minor crime or those who
could not make bond after their arrest and have not been convicted of anything. 9

Nathaniel Quarterman, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 
Response to Hurricane Ike: September 2008 (2008). 

By noon the day before Ike’s landfall, all state prison facilities in the projected path of
Hurricane Ike were evacuated, ensuring that 6,995 convicted prisoners were safe from Ike’s
wrath. 10 Many of these facilities were much further inland than the Galveston County Jail.11   

                                                            
7

 Id. 

8

 Id.; TEX. DEP’T OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, OFFENDER ORIENTATION HANDBOOK, 5‐6, (Nov. 2004). 

9

 See Telephone Interview with Denise Y. Forteson, Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane 
Ike, (Aug. 4, 2009). 
10

  Nathaniel  Quarterman,  Dir.,  Corr.  Inst.  Div.,  Tex.  Dep’t  of  Criminal  Justice,  Presentation  to  the 
Tex. Bd. of Criminal Justice (Dec. 2, 2008). 
11

 Id. 

 

 
6

Even though the jail lies well within the zone identified for immediate evacuation, nowformer Sheriff Gean Leonard opted not to evacuate more than one thousand men and women in
his custody at the jail. 12 The Sheriff later explained his decision was based on the newlyconstructed building’s purported ability to withstand a Category Five Hurricane; a decision made
with no regard for the conditions the detainees and inmates would have to endure after the
storm, 13 which were severe.
Heeding Judge Yarbrough’s warning, the rest of the island sought shelter with friends and
family in neighboring cities in the days that preceded the storm. What follows, however, are the
stories of those whom the County deliberately and callously left behind in jail, at their peril.
Brazoria, Chambers,
Galveston and Harris
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Khou.com, Hurricane Help: September 2008 Archives, (2008). 
www.khou.com/images/0808/evacuationroutemap.jpg 

                                                            
12

 E‐mail from Adam Munoz, Jr., Executive Director, Texas Commission on Jail Standards, to Albert 
Black, et. al. (Sept. 22, 2008, 10:32 CST). 
13

 Id. 

 

 
7

The Not-So-Calm Before the Storm
The detainees and inmates at the jail found out the mayor had issued a mandatory
evacuation order and began to wonder why there was no talk of evacuating the jail. 14 As the
storm approached, detainees and inmates and their families remained in the dark about whether
or not they would be transported to safety. 15 As detainees and inmates’ families departed the
island, the jail was inundated with calls from frantic family members trying to find out what
would happen to their loved ones. 16
When it became clear they would not be evacuated, many detainees and inmates feared
they were going to drown. 17 Stories they had heard of drowning prisoners in Hurricane Katrina,
like the wheelchair bound man who had to be revived by CPR or the pregnant juvenile offender
who was not so lucky, became vivid and imminent possibilities. 18 They waited in anticipation for
Ike to make landfall. They felt like guinea pigs — human subjects of the County’s grand
experiment designed to test the limits of its new jail. 19 The guards even told detainees and
inmates that there was talk of printing their Social Security numbers and birth dates in permanent
marker on their arms so their dead bodies could be identified if they perished in the flood. 20

                                                            
14

  Interview  with  Lawrence  Rodriguez,  Galveston  County  Jail  Inmate  during  Hurricane  Ike, 
Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009); see Telephone Interview with Denise Y. Forteson, supra note 9. 
15

  Id.;  Interview  with  Michael  Shane  Smith,  Galveston  County  Jail  Inmate  during  Hurricane  Ike,  in 
Beaumont, Tex. (June 18, 2009). 
16

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14. 

17

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14; Telephone Interview with Denise Y. Forteson, 
supra note 9. 
18

  American  Civil  Liberties  Union's  National  Prison  Project,  Abandoned  &  Abused:  Orleans  Parish 
Prison in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina (2006).  
19

 Id; Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14. 

20

  Interview  with  Leonard  Rodriguez,  Galveston  County  Jail  Inmate  during  Hurricane  Ike,  in 
Beaumont,  Tex.  (July  15,  2009);  Interview  with  Jim  Brown,  Galveston  County  Jail  Inmate  during 
Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009). 
 
8
 

Ike’s Fury
The Galveston County Jail houses detainees and inmates in “tanks,” which consist of six
dorm rooms situated in an “L” shape around a central space. 21 Each dorm contains eight bunks
and one toilet. 22 The central space has a desk with a phone for the guard on duty. 23 Showers
and several additional toilets are also located in the central space. 24
The power cut out before the hurricane made landfall — back-up generators maintained
dim lighting, but did not maintain the jail’s air-conditioning. 25 One inmate described the sound
of the storm as a “freight train” when it hit the jail.26 As the wind picked up, the detainees and
inmates could hear the air conditioning units ripping off and banging around the outside of the
building. 27 In one of the dorms, an air conditioning unit left a sizeable hole in the ceiling as it
tore off of the building. 28 Water streamed into this dorm, so the detainees and inmates placed a
large outdoor garbage can underneath the stream.

Within an hour, the garbage can was

overflowing. 29

                                                            
21

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

22

 Id. 

23

 Id. 

24

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14. 

25

 Id; Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9; Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, 
supra  note  14;  Interview  with  Mason  Reginald,  Galveston  County  Jail  Inmate  during  Hurricane  Ike,  in 
Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009). 
26

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

27

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20; Interview with Michal Shane Smith, supra note 

15. 
28

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

29

 Id. 

 

 
9

Experimental Tropical Cyclone StorM Sur2e Exceedance
Hei2hts Which Have a lOY. Chance o~ Being Exceeded
Hurricane Ike (2008) Advisory 48

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, , "

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17

19

21

23

2~

Heiwht (in feet above nornal tide)

Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground: Wunder Blog, Ike Makes a Direct Hit on Galveston (Sep. 13, 2008). 
http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/2008/ike_surge_update.png

As the rain became increasingly heavy, the ceiling tiles turned brown from saturation and
started falling into the units. 30 The ceiling, walls, and floors were soaked from rain seeping
through the walls and in from the “rec yard,” a 20’ by 20’ grassy area surrounded by brick walls,
adjacent to the tank. 31

32

One inmate saw the six-foot high water line at the County Courthouse,

which is physically connected to the jail. 33 An apartment complex across the street had a tenfoot high water line. 34 The National Hurricane Center’s report confirms that the water surged
                                                            
30

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

31

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

32

 Id. 

33

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20; see also CNN.com, Ike Wears Itself Out Beating 
Up On Texas, http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/weather/09/13/hurricane.ike.texas/index.html (last visited 
Aug. 14, 2009) (one resident reported that the County Courthouse flooded one foot). 
34

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

 

 
10

this high: “The highest inundation, of at least 10 feet, occurred on the bay side of Galveston
Island.” 35 The detainees and inmates attribute their survival to the “grace of God”, and believe
there is no way the jail, strained as it was by the impact of Ike, a Category Two Hurricane, could
have withstood the Category Five Hurricane it was purportedly designed to weather. 36

Nathaniel Quarterman, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 
Response to Hurricane Ike: September 2008 (2008). 

The Aftermath
In spite of what damage it incurred, the jail building did stand against the storm. But the
mandatory evacuation order was not put in place with property alone in mind. The order was
designed to “alleviate the suffering of the people.” 37 Galveston County’s failure to evacuate
caused the detainees and inmates to suffer dearly in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

                                                            
35

 Robbie Berg, Tropical Cyclone Report:  Hurricane Ike, The National Hurricane Center, AL092008 
(Jan. 23, 2009). 
36

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14; Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Ike, supra 
note 24. 
37

 James D. Yarbrough, Declaration of Local State of Disaster for the County of Galveston, Texas Due 
to Hurricane Ike (Sept. 10, 2008).   
 
11
 

A. Sanitation
Each “tank” contained ten commodes – one in each dorm, and another four in the central
room. 38 Within one day of the water outage, all ten of the toilets were filled to the brim with
human waste. 39 The stench of human excrement overwhelmed the tanks. 40 When FEMA issued
the shower buckets a week after the storm, two buckets were placed in the day room for the 48
occupants to use as toilets. 41 Liquid waste was deposited directly into the buckets, which were
emptied when full and returned. 42 The guards gave the detainees and inmates bags to spread
over the mouths of the buckets for the collection of solid wastes. 43 The detainees and inmates
were told to tie the used bags closed and throw them into the trashcan located in the tank’s
central space. 44 The garbage can soon overflowed with bags of excrement. 45
What’s more, the detainees and inmates had to line up next to this trash can to collect
their daily sandwich meals, distributed in the same room. 46 The lack of airflow in the jail
exacerbated the stench and drove many of the detainees and inmates to incessant vomiting while
waiting in line for food. 47

                                                            
38

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

39

 Id. 

40

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

41

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

42

 Id. 

43

 Interview with Ray Lazare, Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. 
(Jun3 18, 2009). 
44

 Id. 

45

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

46

 Id. 

47

 Id.  

 

 
12

A few weeks later, two “port-a-potties” were brought in to serve six tanks, or 288
people. 48 The detainees and inmates were escorted to the “port-a-potties” in large groups at the
guards’ discretion, and these “port-a-potties” soon started overflowing with human excrement. 49
The occupant had to stand up to avoid being engulfed in human waste while other detainees and
inmates banged on the door to be let in. 50
As water became less scarce at the end of the third week following the storm, several
detainees and inmates were assigned the task of attempting to flush the toilets by pouring water
into them. 51 These individuals were outfitted in protective masks and clothing. The majority of
detainees and inmates, however, had been sleeping every night for weeks right next to the same
overflowing toilets with no protective clothing or equipment. 52
B. Water
The jail’s water system did not work for two and a half weeks after the hurricane. 53 To
quench their severe thirst, detainees and inmates drank the bit of water left flowing from the
sinks immediately after the storm. 54 These detainees and inmates later suffered from severe
diarrhea and other ailments, 55 aggravating the already dismal toilet situation. 56
It took FEMA two days after Ike passed to supply water coolers to the jail. 57 Each tank
received one water cooler for its 48 detainees and inmates. 58
                                                            
48

 Id. 

49

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14. 

50

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

51

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

52

 Id.; see Interview with Ray Lazare, supra note 43. 

53

 Id. 

54

 See Interview with Mason Reginald, supra note 25 

55

 Id. 

56

 See supra Part A, Sanitation. 

57

 

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 
 
13

Each inmate was permitted to fill

one 6-ounce cup with water from the cooler two times a day, supplies permitting. 59 Once the
cooler ran dry, the water was not refilled until several hours later, or, more often than not, the
next day. 60 In the women’s section of the jail, those confined in the single cell units were
forgotten and received no water for the first few days after the storm, as they could not get out of
their cells. 61 In the common areas, fights broke out over the limited water supply. 62
About a week after the storm, FEMA supplied each inmate with a bucket filled with three
inches of water to take a “sponge bath.” 63 This was their only opportunity to bathe until the jail
arranged for water from its supplemental supply to be pumped through the shower system. 64
When running water returned, the detainees and inmates were expected to drink water
from the faucets, even though no one else in the Galveston area was drinking the contaminated
tap water. 65 Three to four weeks after Ike, a group of detainees and inmates saw bottled water
being brought in and placed in coolers. 66 They asked for bottled water to drink and were told by
the guards that the tap water was safe to drink; however, they had seen on the news that tap water
was not safe to drink. 67 One woman was visited by her husband later that day and brought this

                                                                                                                                                                                                
58

 Id. 

59

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

60

 Id. 

61

 Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

62

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

63

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

64

 E‐mail from Adam Munoz, Jr. to Albert Black, et. al. (September 22, 2008). 

65

  See  Robert  Stanton,  To  Drink  or  Not  to  Drink:  Galveston’s  Water  Supply  a  Hot  Topic,  HOUSTON 
CHRONICLE,  Jan.  28,  2009,  http://blogs.chron.com/galveston/health_safety/  (Galveston  County  Health 
District announced the last week of January, 2009 that the water was now safe to drink). 
66

  Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

67

 Id. 

 

 
14

up to him. 68 He told her a guard had warned him not to drink from the faucet because it was not
safe. 69 When the woman returned to her cell, she asked about the discrepancy, was accused of
starting a riot, and placed in lockdown. 70
C. Food
For weeks after Ike, meals consisted of one peanut butter and one baloney sandwich
(which consisted of two pieces of bread and one thin slice of baloney), or a boiled egg and one
sandwich. 71 Before Hurricane Ike hit, detainees and inmates were accustomed to a full meal,
which included a main dish, vegetables, and a dessert. 72
When the jail ran out of sandwiches, meals were a mere two pieces of canned ravioli per
inmate. 73 Detainees and inmates were told that the kitchen could not accommodate any more
significant meals until the water was potable again and bigger generators were brought in. 74
On the day the Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspected the jail, the detainees and
inmates were fed a substantially better meal. 75 The meal consisted of a tuna salad sandwich,
crackers, cookies and juice. 76 As soon as the inspectors left, the pathetic sandwiches returned. 77
D. Communications
The detainees and inmates were anxious to communicate with their loved ones.
Immediately after Ike hit, all phone lines in the jail were down. 78 About a day and a half later,
                                                            
68

 Id. 

69

 Id. 

70

 Id. 

71

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20; Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

72

 Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

73

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

74

 Id. 

75

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14; see Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

76

  Id. 

77

  Id. 

 

 
15

the guards’ phones located on desks in the central spaces of the tanks were functioning; the pay
phones available to the prisoners, however, remained out of order for some time. 79
Detainees and inmates were not permitted to use the guards’ phones, beyond one
occasion. 80 To help curb rumors circulating throughout the displaced community that detainees
and inmates did not make it through the storm, detainees and inmates were each allowed one
phone call. 81 Each inmate could provide guards with one family member’s telephone number,
whom the guard would then call for the inmate. 82 The calls were monitored; if certain things
were said about the conditions the detainees and inmates were enduring, the guards would end
the call immediately. 83 Some detainees and inmates only had the option of having guards call a
family member for them to report that the inmate was still alive. 84
Detainees in county jails need access to telephones in order to speak with their lawyers
and contact bondsmen, regardless of whether they should be able to speak with their families.
When the phone system went down at the Galveston County Jail, it ensured the County would be
responsible for keeping more people in the deplorable conditions in the jail for longer periods of
time because these detainees were unable to use the normal avenues to make bail and be released
from custody.
E. Guard/Detainee/Inmate Dynamics

                                                                                                                                                                                                
78

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

79

  Id.;  Interview  with  James  Carl  Willis,  Galveston  County  Jail  Inmate  during  Hurricane  Ike,  in 
Beaumont, Tex. (June 18, 2009). 
80

 Id. 

81

 Id.; Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

82

 Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez, supra note 14. 

83

 Id. 

84

 Id. 

 

 
16

Emotions ran high after the storm. Guards often left the facility to assess damage to their
own properties, and found the jail to be the only place they had to return. 85 Their grief was often
taken out on detainees and inmates. 86
Before detainees and inmates were allowed their phone call, some had jumped over the
guard desk to use the phone while the few remaining guards were desperately attempting to
communicate with their families. 87 When the guards got wind of this, a group of ten to twelve
guards confronted one tank of detainees and inmates. 88 The guards, no longer in uniform,
heatedly informed detainees and inmates they were under strict orders to use the “bean bag gun”
to keep order and threatened to lock detainees and inmates in their individual cells if they
continued to use the phone. 89
One inmate, described by his peers as quiet and non-confrontational, peacefully told the
group of guards to calm down. 90 In response, the guards tackled him, “wrapped him up,”
handcuffed him and escorted him out of the dorm. 91 A witness reported seeing them punching
the inmate in the head as they walked him down the hall away from the unit. 92 The inmate was
later returned to the dorm with a loosely-wrapped broken wrist. 93  
F. Health

                                                            
85

 Id. 

86

 Id. 

87

  Interview  with  Michael  Shane  Smith,  supra  note  15;  see  also  Interview  with  James  Carl  Willis, 
supra note 79. 
88

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

89

 Id. 

90

 Id. 

91

 Id. 

92

 Id. 

93

 Id. 

 

 
17

Worms squirmed through the shower drains and clouds of gnats infested the jail. 94
Ceiling tiles covered in mold from the rain were left festering for months after the storm. 95 The
stench of human excrement, body odor, and menstrual blood from the women’s dorms
permeated the jail. 96
Most of the medical personnel left the jail before the storm hit.97 Only one or two staff
members with any medical training on hand during and after the storm. 98 Diabetic detainees and
inmates were not getting their insulin, and other medications were in short supply. 99
One inmate had a dizzy spell and slipped on the wet floor while trying to right himself.100
He hit his head hard on a bed frame and lost consciousness. 101 It took a while for the guards to
revive this inmate. 102 When he finally came to, he was provided with a Band-Aid for the gash
on his head and a peanut butter sandwich. 103
The guards told a man complaining of severe chest pain to lie down and place a cool
cloth over his head. 104
A diabetic inmate started having a seizure after going days without insulin and was
revived by a cellmate who fed him some stashed candy. 105
                                                            
94

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

95

 Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

96

 Id. 

97

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

98

 Id.; Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9; see Interview with Michael Shane 
Smith, supra note 15; Interview with James Carl Willis, supra note 79. 
99

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

100

 Interview with Michael Shane Smith, supra note 15. 

101

 Id. 

102

 Id. 

103

 Id. 

104

 

 Interview with James Carl Willis, supra note 79. 
 
18

One inmate drank the dangerous contaminated water from the faucet after the storm and
became quite ill. 106 His face swelled, his skin broke out in a painful red rash, and he started
vomiting what little food he had been given to eat. 107 He could not keep anything down for at
least four days. 108 On the one occasion, when detainees and inmates were given an opportunity
to wash themselves, he did so, but the water left a terrible burning sensation on his skin. 109
Another inmate found herself unable to urinate, and was sent to the infirmary only
because she was pregnant. 110 She was given prescription medication for a urinary tract infection
and was required to use a catheter. 111 Because she had so little water to drink, it was painful for
her to take the antibiotics, which further dehydrated her.112 The infirmary placed an order for a
pitcher of water to be left at the deputy’s desk for her when she was to take her medicine, but this
order was never followed. 113 Without water, she was forced to stop taking the antibiotics and
suffered extreme pain from the infection and the catheter. 114
Response
Both before and after Hurricane Ike, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS)
received many phone calls from concerned state representatives and citizens. 115 TCJS was asked
to evacuate the Galveston County Jail detainees and inmates. However, TCJS does “not have
                                                                                                                                                                                                
105

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

106

 Interview with Mason Reginald, supra note 25. 

107

 Id. 

108

 Id. 

109

 Id. 

110

 Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

111

 Id. 

112

 Id. 

113

 Id. 

114

 Id. 

115

 

 E‐mail from Adam Munoz, Jr., supra note 12. 
 
19

any authority to order that detainees and inmates be moved according to the [County’s]
mandatory evacuation order;” 116 even though TCJS’s duty is to promulgate “rules and
procedures ... for the custody, care and treatment of detainees and inmates.” 117 Four days after
the storm and after receiving a substantial amount of calls concerning the Jail’s conditions, TCJS
finally decided to visit the jail.
Before TCJS’s visit, the Galveston County Jail remained in constant contact with TCJS,
assuring them all was well, and that the “living conditions [were] substantially more reasonable
than the City of Galveston and Galveston County.” 118
After TCJS visited the jail, they determined that the detainees and inmates were not
subject to any “deplorable conditions.” 119 TCJS’ observations of the jail seemed to contradict
numerous observations of the detainees and inmates — likely because the conditions during the
visit were covered up for this single day. 120
Generally, TCJS is a weak regulatory body. For example, it cited serious deficiencies at
the Dallas County Jail for years before changes were made at that facility. Even then, it was the
U.S. Department of Justice, not TCJS, which required the most sweeping changes. TCJS is
understaffed and unable to require immediate action—such as commanding Sheriff Leonard to
evacuate the jail.

                                                            
116

 Id. 

117

 37 Tex. Admin. Code §251.1 (1997) (Tex. Comm’n on Jail Standards, Authority). 

118

  E‐mail  from  Adam  Munoz,  Jr.,  supra  note  12.    Living  conditions  in  the  City  of  Galveston  and 
Galveston County were by no means normal at this time.  
119

 Id. 

120

 Id.; see supra  “The Aftermath.” 

 

 
20

The TCJS report stated “great thought and diligence” had gone into Sheriff Leonard’s
decision not to evacuate the jail detainees and inmates. 121 However, when asked multiple times
to produce any documentation of the “great thought and diligence” behind his decision, the
Sheriff’s office did not respond. 122
The Fallout
As she waited for the hurricane to hit, Denise Forteson, three and a half months pregnant,
thought of the stories she had heard about the detainees and inmates stuck in the Orleans Parish
Prison during Hurricane Katrina. 123 She felt sure she and her baby would not survive. 124
Leonard Rodriguez wondered how it was that the stray dogs and cats in the animal shelter
just down the street were evacuated to safer ground, when more than one-thousand human beings
a few blocks away were left at the mercy of the storm. 125
Jim Brown prayed he would see his mother again. 126
The detainees and inmates were men and women with lives and loved ones. Many had
not even been convicted of a crime. If they had been able to pay a bond, they would have been
allowed to leave the jail and return for trial. Yet these individuals were left alone in the path of a
deadly hurricane as part of an experiment designed to test the strength of Galveston County’s
new facility. Officially, Sheriff Leonard predicted, the jail building withstood the storm, but, if
one asks the more than 1,000 men and women housed at the jail during Hurricane Ike, this
building most definitely did not withstand Ike’s aftermath.
                                                            
121

 E‐mail from Adam Munoz, Jr. to Albert Black, et. al. (September 22, 2008). 

122

 Attempts to contact the Sheriff’s office for information resulted in being passed off to different 
offices in Galveston County and Galveston City. 
123

 Telephone Interview with Denise Forteson, supra note 9. 

124

 Id. 

125

 Interview with Leonard Rodriguez, supra note 20. 

126

 Interview with Jim Brown, supra note 20. 

 

 
21

 

 
22

APPENDIX

Interview with James Carl Willis
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (June 18, 2009).
Interview with Jim Brown
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009).
Interview with Lawrence Rodriguez
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009)
Interview with Leonard Rodriguez
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009);
Interview with Mason Reginald
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (July 15, 2009).
Interview with Michael Shane Smith
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (June 18, 2009)
Interview with Ray Lazare
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, in Beaumont, Tex. (June 18, 2009).
Interview with Denise Y. Forteson
Galveston County Jail Inmate during Hurricane Ike, via Telephone, (Aug. 4, 2009).
 

 

 
23

Interview with Mr. James Carl Willis
Interviewed by Cathryn Ibarra on June 18, 2009
Mr. Willis is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at the
Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Mr. Willis explained there was nothing for the detainees and inmates to drink for the first
two days after the storm hit. The power and water systems were down for three to four weeks
during which time the detainees and inmates did not receive a single hot meal. They were fed
baloney sandwiches and dried foods, and tried to make the carton of milk or orange juice issued
at the beginning of the day last as long as possible because of the shortage of drinking water.
The jail was still running on generators by the time he left in early spring.
Mr. Willis stayed on his bunk as much as possible after the storm to avoid stepping in the
two inches of water and sewage from the overflowing toilets that covered the floors of his tank.
Some of his cell-mates tried to clean it up, but were not successful given the lack of cleaning
supplies. The detainees and inmates had to share buckets to bathe with and were not able to take
a real shower for a month.
After the storm, the detainees and inmates were not permitted to call their families until
an officer by the name of Ms. Massey put her job on the line by making calls for the detainees
and inmates. Until that point, inmates had been jumping over the guard’s desk in the central area
of the tank to use the only working phone in the jail when the guards were away from the tank.
While some medical personnel remained at the jail, they were not fully equipped to deal
with the health problems that arose. While Mr. Willis did not personally have any medical
issues, one of his cell mates experienced bad heart problems. He was told there was nothing the
guards could do for him, and that he should lie down with a cool cloth over his head.
During this time, many of the inmates were riled up, and Mr. Willis believes that the
small incidents that did take place could easily have erupted into bigger, more dangerous riots.
 

 

 
24

Interview with Mr. Jim Brown
Interviewed by Robin O’Neil on July 15, 2009
Mr. Brown is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at the
Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Mr. Brown started our interview by providing me with the full name and TDCJ number
of James Smith, one of the detainees and inmates involved in filing suit against the Galveston
County Jail, who received a threatening letter from Sherriff Gene Leonard asking him to sign an
affidavit describing the conditions of the jail as being much better than they actually were and
telling him to drop the suit or suffer legal repercussions.
Mr. Brown confirmed the guards were discussing marking each inmate with their name
and social security number to help identify their bodies if the jail flooded and they drowned. He
told me the storm sounded like a freight train when it rolled through. He explained it caused the
walls to shake and tiles to fall in from the ceiling. He does not believe the jail would have
withstood the storm had it been even slightly worse. He told me the buildings down the street
from the jail were inundated with 10 feet of water. He believes God was the only reason the
detainees and inmates made it through the storm.
By the second or third day after the storm, the toilets had filled up and the detainees and
inmates were given buckets to collect their waste. They bagged up their feces and threw them
away in a garbage can. Fights broke out over the limited supply of water. They were given
peanut butter or baloney sandwiches to eat for every meal except when the inspectors came, at
which time they were given a tuna sandwich and some cookies and crackers. Over a week after
the storm, the detainees and inmates received a bucket with a little bit of water in it for taking a
“shower”.
Brown was confined in what he described as a “diabetic tank”. None of the detainees and
inmates in his cell were receiving the insulin they needed and there was no medical staff
available to treat sick detainees and inmates. Mr. Brown told me one of his diabetic cell mates
went into a seizure after not receiving insulin, but Mr. Brown gave the man some candy he had
stashed before the storm, and succeeded in reviving him. Brown is not sure what would have
happened had he not been able to give the ill man the candy to raise his blood sugar.
Brown also explained Jill Rickoff, a well known Galveston attorney, who at one point
was considering taking the inmates’ case, tried to visit the detainees and inmates at the jail
shortly after the storm. She was not permitted to enter the premises because of the condition the
facility was in.
 
 

 

 
25

Interview with Mr. Lawrence Rodriguez
Interviewed by Robin O’Neil on July 15, 2009
Mr. Rodriguez is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at
the Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Mr. Rodriguez arrived at the Galveston County Jail about a month before Hurricane Ike
hit. He took copious notes on the conditions during and after the hurricane in a notebook
currently in his wife’s possession. He volunteered a copy of the notes, so I sent him a stamped
envelope addressed to the Austin office for him to send one in. While he could not remember
the exact dates various utilities were restored and conditions improved, he felt confident the
information included in his notes would help clarify the timing of events. At the time, Rodriguez
lived in a dorm with seven other detainees and inmates in a tank that consisted of five other
dorms positioned in an “L” shape around a central area where the guards’ desk, showers, and
toilets were located.
He told me the detainees and inmates found out the mayor had issued a mandatory
evacuation order, and wondered why there was no talk of the jail’s evacuation plan. When it
became clear they were not going to be evacuated, many of the detainees and inmates feared they
were going to drown. When the hurricane hit, it ripped the air conditioning units and in some
areas, parts of the roof, off the building. When the power went out, a back-up generator
maintained some lighting as well as the facility’s computer system. The guards’ phones situated
on the desks in the central areas of the dorms were also functional almost immediately after the
storm. Water seeped in through the ceilings and walls, but the jail itself did not flood.
Rodriguez told me an apartment complex two blocks away from the jail was inundated with 10
feet of water. He believes he and the other detainees and inmates were spared “by the grace of
God”.
The storm completely disabled the water and sewage systems. The toilets in each dorm
and in the central area began to fill up with urine. When they overflowed, the detainees and
inmates started using buckets to collect their waste. In spite of their efforts to cut the smell, the
stench was overwhelming. Rodriguez said many of the detainees and inmates were sickened by
the smell. Many experienced vomiting, and one of his dorm-mates came down with a fever that
lasted several days. No one was provided medical care. By the second or third week after the
storm, porta-potties were brought in to replace the buckets. They were situated in the hallway
between tanks, and the detainees and inmates were only permitted to use them when the guards
would escort them in groups at their discretion. The sewage system was not back to normal until
late October.
Once FEMA brought in water coolers, the detainees and inmates were permitted to fill a
6-8oz cup with water two times a day, supplies permitting. After two weeks passed, their
drinking water rations increased to three times per day. They were given a bucket containing a
small amount of water for them to wash with one week after the storm. The detainees and
inmates ate two sandwiches at every meal until early October. On the day the inspectors arrived
from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the detainees and inmates were served a much
nicer meal, including a tuna salad sandwich, crackers, cookies and juice. As soon as the
inspectors left, the meals returned to sandwiches alone. The detainees and inmates were
instructed not to speak to the inspectors.
 
Four days after the storm the detainees and inmates were permitted to make one phone
call from the guards’ phones in an effort to try and contact their families. However, if certain
 

 
26

things were said about the conditions the detainees and inmates were enduring, the guards would
end the call immediately. Some detainees and inmates were only given the option of having the
guards call a family member for them to report the inmate was still alive. An inmate told him
later that his family called the jail to check on him and was told the detainees and inmates had
been evacuated.
Emotions ran high after the storm, as the guards, who often left the facility to assess the
damage to their own properties, found they had no place but the jail to return to. They often
came back to take out their grief on the detainees and inmates. The detainees and inmates,
however, were not allowed to go into the rec yard to get some fresh air until over a week after
the storm. Rodriguez confirmed Mr. Smith’s story about the group of 14-15 guards in civilian
clothes clamoring at the detainees and inmates in a neighboring tank. Rodriguez explained the
confrontations in his dorm were not as bad as in other areas of the facility since most of the
people in his cell were older and not trying to fight the system, a dynamic which facilitated a
more civilized environment. He told me he heard some of the guards quit because they did not
receive time and a half pay for staying during the hurricane as promised, and others were
interested in filing suit against the county as many of the detainees and inmates later did.
Rodriguez believes the detainees and inmates “were used as guinea pigs to test the new
jail” which was purportedly built to withstand a category 5 hurricane. He pointed out these
categories are measured in terms of the strength and speed of the wind involved, not the flooding
they can cause. Judging by the strain placed on the building during Ike, he told me he feels sure
that if the storm had been even slightly stronger, the jail would not have held up.
 

 

 
27

Interview with Mr. Leonard Rodriguez
Interviewed by Robin O’Neil on July 15, 2009
Mr. Rodriguez is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at
the Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Mr. Rodriguez was quite animated in telling me about the conditions he endured while
incarcerated at the Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike. Shortly before the storm, a
guard by the name of Officer Schwartz told the detainees and inmates there was talk of printing
their social security numbers and birth dates in permanent marker on their arms so their dead
bodies could be identified if the jail flooded and they drowned. Rodriguez said it was possible
the guard was making a cruel joke, but if that was the case, it certainly was not obvious to him.
The detainees and inmates I spoke with after Mr. Rodriguez told me they too had heard this
might happen, which indicates officials’ knowledge of the risk.
When the toilets in the tank filled up after the storm, the detainees and inmates were
given buckets to use. The guards handed out bags to the detainees and inmates and instructed
them to empty their bowels into the bags by spreading them over the mouths of the buckets. The
detainees and inmates were to then tie the bags closed and throw them into the trash can in the
central area around which the dorms were situated. The detainees and inmates had to line up
next to the trash can, which was soon overflowing with bags of excrement, to collect their daily
sandwich meals which were distributed in the same room. The lack of air flow exacerbated the
stench and drove many of the detainees and inmates to incessant vomiting. A few weeks later,
two porta potties were brought in to serve six of the pods (I understand one “pod” consists of six
dorms housing eight people each, so there are 48 people per pod, meaning these two porta potties
were being used by 288 people). The detainees and inmates were escorted to the porta potties in
large groups, and they too soon started overflowing with human excrement. While other
detainees and inmates banged on the door to be let in, the lucky occupant had to stand up to
avoid being engulfed in human waste.
Rodriguez told me he installs HVAC units for a living, and the AC units that were being
ripped off the roof of the jail during the storm were “package units” which are quite large. In his
dorm there was a sizable hole in the ceiling where Ike tore the AC unit off of the roof. Water
started coming into the dorm, so the detainees and inmates placed a large garbage can underneath
the leak and within an hour it was full. Some of the detainees and inmates continued to drink the
water after the storm, and as a result, contracted severe diarrhea which exacerbated the toilet
situation. After finding out the water was not potable, the detainees and inmates had to wait for
FEMA and the Red Cross to arrive with water coolers. One cooler was provided to each pod
housing 48 detainees and inmates. Each inmate was permitted to fill up one small cup of water.
Once the cooler ran out, there was no more water until either later that evening, or more often
than not, the next day. Rodriguez confirmed the detainees and inmates received a slightly better
meal the day the inspectors came, though they did not come to his cell block.
Rodriguez remembers most of the guards being pretty sympathetic to the prisoners since
they were all in the same boat. Some of them were as angry about the decision not to evacuate
as the detainees and inmates, and would occasionally arrange for extra food for select detainees
and inmates. He remembers the names of the following guards who were present during the
hurricane: Alvarez, Schwartz, and (Donna) Cleagar. Rodriguez said at least two guards were
fired for not showing up to work during the hurricane, even though it was supposedly a voluntary
arrangement, but he does not remember their names. There were only one or two medical staff
 

 
28

members on hand to serve the entire population of the jail. Diabetics were not getting their
insulin, and other medications were in short supply. Worms squirmed through the shower drains
and clouds of gnats infested the jail.
Rodriguez told me shortly after things had settled down a bit, the detainees and inmates
were ordered to go to the courthouse (connected to the jail) to start cleaning up. The water
marks at the courthouse indicated the flood there had risen to six feet. In fact, several cases
against the detainees and inmates had to be dropped because evidence that had been housed in
the courthouse was lost in the flood. Rodriguez does not believe the jail would have held up
against the storm had it been even slightly stronger. He also took issue with the fact that the
animal shelter down the street was evacuated, but the detainees and inmates were not. He told
me an inmate by the name of James Smith who filed suit against the county, recently received a
letter from Gean Leonard, the Galveston County Sherriff, telling him to drop the suit and sign an
affidavit affirming the conditions at the jail during the hurricane were far better than they
actually were, or suffer legal repercussions.  

 

 
29

Interview with Mr. Mason Reginald
Interviewed by Robin O’Neil on July 15, 2009
Mr. Reginald is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at
the Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
 
Mr. Reginald was incarcerated at the Galveston County Jail about six months before the
storm hit. Reginald told me after the storm passed, the detainees and inmates were told the water
was safe to drink. Mr. Reginald drank the water from the faucet, and that same day became quite
ill. His face swelled, his skin broke out in a painful red rash, and he started vomiting what little
food the detainees and inmates were given to eat. He could not keep anything down for at least
four days. On the few occasions the detainees and inmates were given an opportunity to wash
themselves, the water would burn his skin horribly.
Reginald believes there were no more than 4 medical personnel on hand for the entire
population of the jail during the aftermath of the hurricane. He was attended to by a nurse within
a few days of becoming sick. The nurse told him he had had an allergic reaction, but she would
not say to what. She provided him with some medication for his stomach, and something else
for his skin, but the medicine did not last as long as his symptoms. The pills she provided lasted
about five days. Reginald told me his skin and stomach were not the same for 7 months. He still
has little red spots on his skin from the rash, but that is the only remaining evidence of his
illness.
Mr. Reginald told me he and the other detainees and inmates were fed cereal until the end
of September. Reginald feels the guards were intercepting more than their share of the food and
water sent by FEMA and other organizations. The generators powered some of the lights, but
were not powerful enough to keep the AC going. After the toilets filled up, the detainees and
inmates started using a bucket that was intended to serve all 48 people inside his pod. The
detainees and inmates were not permitted to go outside for fresh air until the end of September.
Reginald further told me officials had to close certain parts of the jail because there was so much
water damage. Having been denied access to the phone, about a month after the storm Reginald
jumped over the guards’ desk to use their phone to contact his family.
Fights broke out among the detainees and inmates and between guards and detainees and
inmates. Reginald told me Mayor Thomas of Galveston arranged for the release of about 100
detainees and inmates who had either become really sick or had been severely beaten by guards
after the storm. He remembered the name of only one of these detainees and inmates — one
Larry Smith (no TDCJ number)—who purportedly was freed because he had been beaten up by
two guards in the aftermath of the storm. Reginald told me George Grimes, one of the detainees
and inmates I was supposed to interview, was released the Tuesday before I arrived at Gist for
the interviews. He too, was beaten by officials in after the hurricane. Mr. Reginald himself is set
for release on July 26th.

 

 
30

Interview with Mr. Michael Shane Smith
Interviewed by Robin O’Neil on June 18, 2009
Mr. Smith is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at the
Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Mr. Smith was incarcerated at the Galveston County Jail two to three weeks before
Hurricane Ike hit. As September 12th neared, the guards told the detainees and inmates the
sheriff had decided they would not be evacuated because the newly built facility was designed to
withstand a category four hurricane. The detainees and inmates were told they would be moved
only if Ike reached category four levels, or someone [in the jail] died. In the days preceding the
hurricane, Mr. Smith was permitted to call his mother and fiancé to let them know he would not
be evacuated. Mr. Smith’s loved ones later told him they heard an announcement on the news as
the hurricane struck Galveston that the County Jail had been evacuated, causing greater
confusion. Mr. Smith heard the guards were being offered significant amounts of money to
weather the storm in the holding cells with the detainees and inmates, but noted most of the staff
had cleared out by the 11th. He believes there were around ten guards on lockdown with the
detainees and inmates during the storm.
Mr. Smith described the facility as a tank with six dorm rooms each housing eight
detainees and inmates surrounding a common “day room” which contained a desk and phone for
the guard on duty. The “rec yard” consisted of a 20 X 20 grassy area surrounded by brick walls,
adjacent to the tank. The power cut out before the hurricane hit, but back-up generators
maintained dim lighting. As the wind picked up, the detainees and inmates could hear the air
conditioning units ripping off and banging around the outside of the building. As the rain
became increasingly heavy, the ceiling tiles turned brown from saturation and started falling into
the units. The ceiling, walls, and floors were wet from the broken air conditioning units and
heavy rain seeping through the walls, and in from the rec yard, but at no point did water start
rushing into the jail. By the time it reached land, Ike had been reduced to a category two
hurricane. Mr. Smith wondered how the facility, strained as it seemed during the storm, would
have withstood the category four hurricane it was purportedly designed to withstand.
For two and a half weeks after the hurricane, there was no water or power. Two days
went by before FEMA arrived with water coolers. The day room in Mr. Smith’s area was
supplied with one water cooler designed to serve all 48 detainees and inmates. He described the
drinking water as dirty and containing sand. The water would usually run out by lunch time and
would not be resupplied until late evening. FEMA sent a truck to the unit every two to three
days with more drinking water. A week and a half after the storm, FEMA supplied the detainees
and inmates a bucket filled with three inches of water to take a “sponge bath”. This was their
only opportunity to bathe in the two and a half week period following the hurricane before the
water came back on.
The detainees and inmates were served one peanut butter and one baloney sandwich
(which consisted of two pieces of bread and one thin slice of baloney), or a boiled egg and one
sandwich for most meals. There were times the meal consisted of merely two pieces of canned
ravioli per inmate. The kitchen could not accommodate any more significant meals until three to
four weeks after the hurricane when the water was potable again and bigger generators were
brought in.
Each dorm contained one commode for the eight detainees and inmates’ use. The day
room contained an additional four. All ten of the toilets were filled to the brim within a day after
 

 
31

the water stopped working. The overwhelming stench of human excrement was exacerbated by
the heat and humidity. When FEMA issued the shower buckets a week and a half after the
storm, two were placed in the day room for the 48 occupants to use as toilets. When the buckets
filled up they were emptied and brought back to the day room. As water became less scarce
toward the end of the three week period following the storm, several detainees and inmates were
assigned to attempt to flush the toilets by pouring water into them. These detainees and inmates
were outfitted in protective masks and clothing. Mr. Smith expressed concern about the fact he
was sleeping every night next to an overflowing toilet in his unit with no protective clothing.
All phones were out at the unit in the immediate aftermath of the storm. About a day and
a half later, the guards’ phone, which was located behind the desk in the day room, was
functioning but the detainees and inmates’ phones were not. Apparently the two were operated
by different companies, one of which had its phone system up and running more quickly than the
other. In the aftermath of the storm, the detainees and inmates were anxious to communicate
with their loved ones. They were not permitted to use the guard’s phone behind the desk, but in
their desperation started jumping over the desk and using the phone when the few guards who
had remained at the unit through the storm were away [Mr. Smith suspected many of the guards
were leaving the jail to assess the damage at their own properties]. When the guards got wind of
the detainees and inmates’ activity, they came in a group of seven to nine to confront the
detainees and inmates about it. The guards, no longer in uniform, heatedly informed the
detainees and inmates they were under strict orders to use the “bean bag gun” to keep order and
threatened to lock the detainees and inmates in their individual cells if they continued to use the
phone. Mr. Smith believes the guards were tired of being in charge of the jail, disturbed by their
own loss, and were looking for a fight. One of Smith’s fellow detainees and inmates, who he
described as quiet and non-confrontational, calmly told the group of guards to calm down. In
response, the guards tackled him, “wrapped him up”, handcuffed him and escorted him out of the
dorm. Smith said he could see them punching him in the head as they walked him down the hall
away from the unit. The inmate returned to the dorm later with a loosely wrapped broken wrist.
Smith does not remember the name of this man. At the end of the week following the storm, the
guards set up a calling system to let the families of the detainees and inmates know they had
survived the storm. Each inmate could provide the guard on duty the telephone number of one
family member which the guard would then call for the inmate.
Another inmate in Mr. Smith’s unit had a dizzy spell and slipped on the wet floor while
trying to right himself. He hit his head hard on the bed frame and lost consciousness. He was
not responsive to the guards who tried to revive him. Most of the medical personnel left the jail
before the storm hit. There were only one or two staff members with any medical expertise on
hand as far as Mr. Smith could tell, and virtually no medical supplies. One of them successfully
revived the unconscious inmate and provided him a Band-Aid for the gash on his head and a
peanut butter sandwich.
Smith also reported detainees and inmates who regularly took
medication were not receiving it. Three weeks after the storm the state sent an inspector to the
jail. Mr. Smith said when the detainees and inmates told the inspector how unprepared they felt
the county jail was for Ike, the official’s response was “at least you had something to eat”.

 

 
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Interview with Mr. Ray Lazare
Interviewed by Cathryn Ibarra on June 18, 2009
Mr. Lazare is currently an inmate at TDCJ’s Gist Unit in Beaumont. He was incarcerated at the
Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Mr. Lazare reported that none of the detainees and inmates were permitted to contact
family or friends to let them know they would not be evacuated. When the storm hit, the power,
plumbing, and water systems at the jail immediately went out. Although the jail did not flood,
everything was wet. The walls and ceilings leaked, soaking the bunks and floors.
Within the first few days after the storm hit, there was no drinkable water. Starting three
days after the storm hit, each tank was supplied with one five gallon container of drinking water
every 10 to 12 hours to be shared between the 48 inhabitants. Meals for weeks after the
hurricane consisted of dry sandwiches.
About a week after the storm passed, the detainees and inmates were given one 50 gallon
trash container full of water and one dip bucket for bathing. The detainees and inmates passed
the dip bucket from person to person with no sanitation procedures in between them. Two weeks
passed before the detainees and inmates were able to take a real shower.
The detainees and inmates continued to use the toilets until they backed up. The toilets
overflowed onto the floor, and the stench of human excrement filled the air. When the toilets
stopped working, each tank was given one to two buckets to use as toilets. They would place
plastic bags in the buckets to catch the waste products and then those bags would have to be
placed into larger trash bags for disposal. The detainees and inmates were not able to wash their
hands after handling the feces. Both detainees and inmates and officials were charged with
“packing” human waste. They were given protective gear to wear for this purpose, but the
detainees and inmates were living with it every day, so the protective measures taken for waste
“packing” did not do much good. The generators were not powerful enough to provide sufficient
air circulation to curb the smell of excrement and body odor. The overwhelming odor and
constant presence of human waste caused eye and skin irritation. Porta-potties were later
brought in for the detainees and inmates to use.
About a week after the storm, the detainees and inmates were permitted to contact the
outside world. Calls made were closely monitored by officials. The detainees and inmates had
to limit their conversations to a brief statement that they made it through the storm. When the
Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors visited the jail, the detainees and inmates were
instructed to be careful about what they said to the inspectors about the conditions at the jail.
 
 
Mr. Lazare felt trapped like an animal, with nowhere to go and no real answers.

 

 
33

Interview with Ms. Denise Yvette Forteson
Interviewed by Leanne Heine on August 4, 2009
Ms. Forteson is currently trying to rebuild her life post-Ike and post-incarceration. She was
incarcerated at the Galveston County Jail during Hurricane Ike.
Galveston County Jail incarcerated Ms. Forteson on September 9, 2008, 3 days before Hurricane
Ike, for a charge of injury to a child by omission. Her bond amount was $25,000. During her
imprisonment, Ms. Forteson was 3.5 months pregnant. Her case was eventually dismissed, and
she was released on April 7, 2009. Ms. Forteson’s home was destroyed during Ike, and she is
currently trying to find a job.
Ms. Forteson explained that the pre-Ike conditions at the Galveston County Jail were decent for a
jail. There was running water, and air conditioning. The meals were decent, including
vegetables and a dessert in addition to the main meal. The medical staff had (and after
conditions returned to normal) a staff of about 6-7 at all times, including doctors.
Ms. Forteson was housed in the women’s area of the jail. Her section had four 8-person cells
and 15 single cell units. During Ike, there were about 40 women in her section. Specifically,
Ms. Forteson was in an 8-person cell with 5-6 other women. Up until 6 p.m. on September 12,
Ms. Forteson did not know if the jail would be evacuated. She and the other prisoners kept
hearing rumors from guards about whether or not they would be evacuating.
During the storm, the women heard some flapping coming from the ceiling and something on top
of the roof broke off. The roof began to leak into the building, ceiling tiles became soaked, and
eventually many collapsed or molded. The mold was not cleaned up until a month or so before
Ms. Forteson was released (around March 2009). The women detainees and inmates asked about
this mold frequently, but the deputies always responded that it was “not their call.”
When Ike hit, the lights went out almost immediately, along with the air conditioning. The backup generators kicked in, dimly lighting the jail, but not turning back on the air conditioning.
Right after the storm there was still a little bit of running faucet water, but by the next day it had
run out. For the day the women were still able to use the toilets, but by the next morning, the
guards brought plastic bags to cover the toilets and placed three buckets by the showers for toilet
use. These buckets sat out all day, and were cleared each night.
It was about 1 week before the lights and air conditioning went back on, two weeks before there
was running water, and 3 weeks before the gas was turned on (so hot showers could be taken).
The jail did not return to pre-Hurricane conditions for 3 weeks.
The women at first received 2-3 sandwiches per meal, usually peanut butter and jelly. Because
Ms. Forteson was pregnant, she was supposed to get double the food as the other women
detainees and inmates. However, the food supply became low after a few days, and the ration
was cut back to 1 sandwich each, regardless of whether a woman was pregnant or not.
For a considerable number of days, each woman received water 3 times a day, 4 ounces per
serving. If someone happened to be asleep during water calls, she was out-of-luck. For the first
 

 
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few days the women in the single cell units were forgotten and received no water because they
could not get out of their cells. The guards finally realized this and began serving the women in
the single cell units first.
A few days after Ike hit, Ms. Forteson began to have urinary problems. She was not able to
urinate, and was sent to the infirmary. Only 2-3 medical staff per shift were at the jail, with no
doctors. Ms. Forteson was only able to see the infirmary because she was pregnant. She was
given a prescription medicine for a urinary tract infection, and had to use a catheter. Because the
jail was barely giving Ms. Forteson drinking water, it was painful for her to take the antibiotics,
which dehydrated her. The infirmary placed an order for a pitcher of water to be left at the
deputy’s desk for Ms. Forteson when she was to take her medicine, but this never happened.
Therefore, Ms. Forteson was forced to stop taking her antibiotics and had extreme pain from
both the infection and the catheter. The women’s unit smelled not only from the mold, but also
from the toilets, buckets used in replacement of the toilets, body odor, and from menstruation.
About 5-6 days after Ike, the women were given 3 buckets of half-full water for bathing. The
same water was used for each woman, and the buckets were not sanitized between uses.
About a day before the Texas Commission on Jail Standards came to tour the jail, the toilet
buckets were removed, the actual toilets were unclogged, and port-a-potties were brought in. At
the same time, the women were given the buckets for bathing. No representatives talked or
asked any questions to the prisoners in Ms. Forteson’s section of the jail.
After running water returned, the women still had to drink faucet water, although no one else in
the Galveston area was drinking the filthy water. About 3-4 weeks after Ike, Ms. Forteson and
others saw a bunch of bottled water being brought in and placed in coolers. They asked for
bottled water to drink, but were told the water was safe to drink, even though the women had
seen on the news that it was not safe to drink. One woman was visited by her husband later that
day and brought this up to him. He told her that a guard had warned him while he was waiting
that day not to drink from the faucet because it was not safe. When the woman returned to her
cell, she asked about the discrepancy, was accused of “starting a riot,” and was placed in
lockdown.
About a week after the storm, each woman was allowed to make a phone call to her family.
They had to use the deputy’s phone because the detainees and inmates’ phone was dead for
several weeks. Ms. Forteson said the only reason they were allowed a phone call was because of
rumors that the prisoners in Galveston County Jail had died, like Katrina prisoners.
Ms. Forteson had to see a jail psychiatrist about the nightmares and flashbacks she was
experiencing during her sleep. She was told she has PTSD. Ms. Forteson explained she really
thought she was going to die, and all the women kept thinking about what happened to the
prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison during and after Katrina. Luckily, her 6-month old son is
healthy, and did not experience any complications due to his mother’s imprisonment during the
Hurricane. Ms. Forteson and many other prisoners feel they were used as “guinea pigs” for the
County to test out its new jail. Ms. Forteson would like all jails to change its policies concerning
hurricane evacuations.

 

 
35

About the Texas Civil Rights Project
The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) promotes racial, social, and economic justice through
education and litigation. TCRP strives to foster equality, secure justice, ensure diversity, and
strengthen communities. Since its beginning, TCRP has achieved substantial system gains in
ensuring justice for all Texans. TCRP uses education and litigation to make structural change in
areas such as voting rights, police and border patrol misconduct, sex discrimination, employment
bias, privacy, disability rights, grand jury discrimination, traditional civil liberties (i.e. free
speech), and Title IX in secondary education.
TCRP was founded in 1990 as part of Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, a non-profit communitybased foundation located in South Texas. Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc., started in 1978
as a community, grassroots foundation to provide legal assistance and education, without cost, to
low-income people, particularly minority persons and individuals victimized by discrimination.
TCRP began with an unpaid staff of two in the Austin Peace Building (an attorney and an office
manager). Within a few months, TCRP was able to hire an attorney for its South Texas office.
TCRP now has a staff of eight in Austin, and five in the Rio Grande Valley – and owns its
offices in both places. TCRP also has recently opened an office in El Paso with a staff of three.
For 17 years, the Texas Civil Rights Project has been a tireless advocate for racial, social and
economic equality in Texas, through its education and litigation programs.
Some of the achievements we are most proud of:
* Handled more than 2000 cases
* Published 8 Human Rights reports on issues such as hate crimes and the death penalty
* Compiled five “self-help” manuals
* Published 300 opinion editorials in Texas newspapers
* Given 250 speeches and talks on civil rights
* Conducted community and lawyer trainings for more than 22,000 persons.
The South Texas Project has worked steadfastly to extend equal rights to farm laborers and
colonia residents in the Rio Grande Valley, and improve their living and working conditions.
__________________________
History of Oficina Legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc. and The Texas Civil Rights Project, available at
http://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/about/history.htm

 

 
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We have sued over every kind of misconduct in every part of Texas — city police, sheriff
deputies, Department of Public Safety officers, and Border Patrol agents. Because of our work,
jails in Hidalgo, El Paso, Henderson, Tom Green, Williamson, Travis, Bexar, Dallas, and Brown
Counties do much more now in preventing inmate suicide, providing interpreters for deaf
prisoners, protecting vulnerable inmates from sexual assault, administering HIV medications,
and making them accessible for inmates with disabilities.
TCRP set the national model in ballot accessibility for blind voters and has led at least 17
regional compliance campaigns in Texas under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
Thanks to the efforts of our staff, churches and courthouses in Texas are much more accessible
to elderly and disabled people – and government more accountable.
We have pioneered a unique “circuit-rider” outreach program in west and south rural Texas for
abused and undocumented spouses under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA).
And we have prodded the Texas Supreme Court to improve pro bono services for poor and lowincome families in the state, 90% of whom have unmet legal needs each year.
Our Title IX educational and litigation programs on sexual harassment and equal sports
opportunities have helped make rural middle schools and high schools more hospitable for young
women. Our work has also opened up the prospect of athletic scholarships to college for them.
Our “Equality under the Law” campaign has addressed “benign” discrimination against African
Americans and Hispanic Americans in banks, restaurants, motels, and other places of public
accommodation.
Our efforts to help South Asian, Muslim, and Arab citizens, permanent residents, and students
who fell victim to post September 11 discrimination have included filing a suit against a major
airline, and enlisting Texas attorneys to represent, on a pro bono basis, individuals who were
questioned by the FBI.
We worked with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) to help
create single-member school board districts in Del Valle ISD and assisted in redistricting the
Texas Legislature and Texas Congressional so as to protect the voting and representational rights
of minority citizens.
We are assisting the NAACP in asking the U.S. Department of Justice to withhold federal funds
from the Austin Police Department until it changes its use of force practices in minority
communities.
We joined with the American Jewish Congress in one of the first court cases in the country to
challenge the constitutionality of government funding of a religiously orientated job-training
program that used the Bible as a text and proselytized among its trainees.
We are a leading voice in raising questions about the fairness of Texas' death penalty scheme,
and the possibilities of executing innocent people. So, too, are we an intrepid advocate of

 

 
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traditional civil liberties, such as free speech and assembly, due process, and equal protection
under the United States and Texas Constitutions.
 

 

 
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