Almost 7,000 people died in police custody in Texas, according to new report
Nearly 7,000 people have died while in Texas police custody or after being locked up in the last decade, according to a report from the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis.
Almost 2,000 of those people were never convicted of a crime.
The report, part of the Texas Justice Initiative, showed that 70% of the 6,913 deaths were due to natural causes.
The cases broke down like this:
• 11% (772): suicide
• 8% (573): justifiable homicide
• 4% (275): alcohol or drug intoxication
• 4% (255): died for other reasons
• 2% (168): accidental injury
The report is bound to raise a few red flags for the language it uses to categorize the types of custodial death, terms created and defined by Texas' attorney general.
The study explains, for instance, that "justifiable homicide" could apply to an incident in which an inmate was killed by a corrections officer, but could also describe a death involving other parties that was determined to be for good reason.
On the other end of that, homicides by police that didn't fall into the justified category went into "other reasons" — the same category used to file a homicide at the hands of a fellow inmate. "Accidental injury," in one case, involved the asphyxiation of a 14-year-old inmate who tied a bedsheet around his neck and had a neighboring inmate pull the sheet until he lost consciousness.
According to the Justice Policy Institute, about seven out of 10 people in Texas prisons are either black or Latino. According to the Initiative report, 42% of the deceased were white, 30% were black and 28% were Latino.
Recent incidents, like the death of 28-year-old Texas woman Sandra Bland, have brought the problem of inmate deaths to the fore. Bland died in police custody after what was originally called a suicide. After further review, it was decided her case would be treated as a murder investigation.
In the two weeks after Bland's death, four more black women were reported dead in police custody.
Symone Marshall, a 22-year-old woman in Texas, died of a seizure in her jail cell after two weeks of what was called "gross negligence" on the part of the officers involved, who allegedly denied her requests for medical assistance, according to Marshall's family.
Barbara Dawson, a 57-year-old black woman arrested for disorderly conduct at a hospital in 2015, died in police custody after having a blood clot in her lungs. The police ruled it natural causes. Her family said she was pleading for her oxygen tank, which she wasn't given.
"We can't have an informed conversation about who's dying at the hands of police or who's dying in jails, if we don't literally know who's dying and how they're dying," Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral fellow at the institute, told Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA. "I think this information can help us get to the bottom causes of mortality in the criminal justice system and with that lead us to solutions."
Woog said custodial deaths like these aren't reported thoroughly enough — and that, in some cases, the deaths ruled natural may be recategorized after further review.
"Sometimes memories might not serve people as well in those sort of circumstances, but I think it would be great if we were able to have other accounts of what happened" Woog said. "I think that's lacking a lot when we're talking about these big data kinds of questions."