19-year-old with special needs dies after Texas jail attack

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 8:56 AM CDT|Updated: Nov. 4, 2021 at 10:44 AM CDT
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HOUSTON (KTRK) – A Texas family is speaking out after their loved one died after he was attacked by a man twice his size while in jail.

Fred Harris, a 19-year-old with special needs, died Sunday from injuries sustained in the attack.

His family said the county is to blame for the death.

Dallas Garcia, Fred Harris’ mother, said she went to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office as soon as she found out her son, who had intellectual disabilities, was in jail.

He was booked on Oct. 11 on charges of aggravated assault.

“I came down immediately and told them, I said, ‘This is not a place for him. He’ll never understand,’” Garcia said at a news conference Wednesday. “So I spoke with the deputy, we called the medical staff and I didn’t leave until I got some answers, and when I left they said that my son would be OK. … I thought he would be safe and OK.”

Authorities said Harris died after a fight with another inmate on Friday.

Court records show the other inmate, 25-year-old Michael Ownby, allegedly bashed Harris’ head on the concrete floor, kicked him and stabbed him.

“He was put with a 240-pound individual proven to be extremely violent, and who had manufactured a knife in the jail,” said Randall Kallinen, the family’s attorney.

Kallinen explained the attack happened the month after a lawsuit was filed against the county by some Harris County Jail employees, alleging unsafe working conditions due to the jail being understaffed.

Jeff Reese, a retired Harris County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, now with the Houston Peace & Justice Center, said he witnessed some of the problems firsthand.

“If the problems had been addressed, we wouldn’t be standing here,” Reese said at the news conference. “This young man wouldn’t have lost his life.”

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying: “Mr. Harris’ death is a tragedy and adds to the increasing number of lives taken violently in every corner of our society this year. We are determined to ensure that his killer faces justice, and we extend our condolences to Mr. Harris’ family.”

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