Houston Chronicle

Man who died at jail was near getting out

- By Samantha Ketterer STAFF WRITER

A Houston man who died last week at the Harris County Jail had signed a form that could have induced his release several days earlier, according to court records, apparently unbeknowns­t to his attorney and judge.

Wallace Harris, 65, instead remained in the lockup from May 2 to May 6, when he died of a heart attack, according to the Harris County Sheriff ’s Office.

He was waiting for a court setting where state District Judge Hilary Unger said she would issue an order banning him from seeing an alleged victim, then grant him a personal bond.

He died on May 6, four days after his arrest. Unger and Harris’ attorney, Cory Roth, said they later learned that the defendant had already signed a protective order on the day he was booked in the jail.

“If I had known that (an order) had been signed, I would have been banging on the court’s doors,” Roth said.

It’s unclear how the court and Harris’ defense missed the order. The Harris County District Clerk’s Office said staff members physically filed the document in Unger’s court, but Roth said he never received a copy.

Roth and Unger said they didn’t spot the order in the clerk’s online filing system until after Harris’ death. The clerk’s office said they were unable to provide a timestamp showing when the document was posted online, but acknowledg­ed there was a delay.

“Because it was a physical document, it took some time for it to become available online,” spokesman Al Ortiz said.

Roth said fixes to systemic problems could have prevented Harris’ death — at least in the jail.

He first said that Harris shouldn’t have been charged in the first place — he allegedly slapped his sister, who declined to press charges but said she just wanted her brother, her caretaker, out of the house.

Harris was arrested on May 2 on a third-degree felony charge of injury to a disabled person. He went to see Unger to sign a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection on May 4, but vomited on the way over and was sent back to the jail, Roth said. He died on May 6 of a heart attack, according to the Harris County Sheriff ’s Office.

Unger said she would have released Harris on a personal recognizan­ce bond had she known about the order he signed earlier.

“Had we seen this protective order … that makes me upset more than anything,” Unger said.

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