Inmate’s death draws tears, questions — and protests
Family doubts suicide after man found hanged
In a somber gathering punctuated by tears, protesters gathered outside the Harris County Jail on Wednesday, lobbing accusations and demanding answers in the death of a 32-year-old inmate earlier this week.
Vincent Young, a father of nine who would have turned 33 on Saturday, was found dead in an infirmary cell Monday evening. His death was ruled a suicide, but some who knew him are skeptical.
“I know my son wouldn’ t take his own life,” Vincent Laday said, breaking down into sobs.
Ryan Sullivan, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff ’s Office, declined to comment on the case, citing an ongoing investigation.
He confirmed that Young had filed many grievances during his various jail stays, although he could not immediately provide specifics about any of them.
Guards making their rounds found Young’s body hanging by a bed sheet just after 7 p.m., according to the sheriff ’s office.
Young’s supporters — including local activist Quanell X — believe there’s more to the story.
“In 2007 and 2008, he was brutally beaten inside the Harris County Jail,” Quanell said. “They whitewashed that investigation, swept it under the rug, flushed it down the damn toilet because they don’t give a damn about young black men being beaten in this jail.”
Although he continued to bounce in and out of jail for another decade, Young
reportedly feared for his safety.
“He specifically told his mother, his wife and his father that they told him if he ever came back they were going to kill him,” Quanell said. “He specifically told them, ‘If I come up dead, it’s not a suicide.’ ”
After seeing pictures of Young’s body, his supporters have more questions.
“He has suspicious bruising on his body, a severely busted lip,” Quanell said, adding that the jail has a “systemic history” of abuse. “We are demanding that the Department of Justice step in and take over this investigation.”
Young, who was facing drug and gun charges, had been booked into the county jail 31 separate times — part of a lengthy arrest record dating back to at least 2002.
At the time of his death, Young was in the infirmary for detoxification, according to the sheriff ’s office.
But according to his family, he was set to be bailed out — and he knew it.
“My husband was supposed to be released the next day,” Kim Young tearfully told the crowd outside the jail. “When I went and saw him, I let him know this is when he was coming home.”
Black Lives Matter activist Ashton Woods said the case’s inconsistencies need to be addressed.
“We want Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to answer the questions. We want video, we want DNA evidence, and we will not stop until this family has all the answers they deserve,” he said.
“This is injustice. This is what it means, this is what it looks like. We demand justice for Vincent Young.”
Gonzalez tweeted his condolences Wednesday evening. “Very sorry for the loss. Thoughts & prayers are with the family. Open to meet w/you and answer questions.”
Young’s is the most recent in a string of in-custody deaths in Harris County in recent years. Between 2005 and 2015, 150 inmates died in the county jail, according to data compiled by the Texas Justice Initiative.
In 2016, the jail made national news when inmate Patrick Brown was beaten to death a day after he was locked up on a misdemeanor assault charge.
Afterward, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an inquiry examining the jail conditions that led to four deaths from assault or head trauma in a one-year period under former Sheriff Ron Hickman.
Despite the controversy, Sullivan was quick to point out that the facility’s suicide rate is low in comparison to other large jails.
Nationwide, 46 inmates per 100,000 kill themselves in county jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Sullivan said Harris County’s rate is roughly one-third that.
“The number of suicides we stop is much more staggering than the numbers that are successful,” he added.
That was little consolation to Young’s friends and family.