Ed Gonzalez, Democratic candidate for Harris County Sheriff, challenged current Sheriff Hickman to reinstate jail inspectors and diversify the staff if any criminal justice reform plan is to succeed.
Here’s the press release from Gonzalez:
Ed Gonzalez, the leading Democratic candidate for Sheriff, called on Sheriff Ron Hickman today to join the county’s push for criminal justice reform by reinstating jail inspectors and replacing his command staff with a more diverse leadership team
Gonzalez applauded yesterday’s action by county commissioners to accept a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and spend millions more on reforms that include expanding pre-trial diversion programs, implementing a new bail system and improving relationships with minority communities.
“Commissioners are moving in the right direction with their new reform plan, but it won’t be enough until real reform comes to the Sheriff’s office,” said Gonzalez.
“Sheriff Hickman must immediately reinstate the jail inspectors and the investigative unit he dismantled and replace his command staff with a leadership team that is more reflective of the communities served by the sheriff’s office,” said Gonzalez.
Hickman’s first act after being appointed sheriff was to replace the existing diverse command staff with all white men. After intense pressure, Hickman later made some additional appointments, but the command staff is nowhere near reflective of the communities that make up Harris County. Gonzalez expressed concern that, until the sheriff truly diversified his command staff, the county’s new racial and ethnic diversity coordinator would continue to face barriers in rebuilding the trust of minority communities in the criminal justice system.
“If the county’s law enforcement leader fails to recognize the need for real diversity,” said Gonzalez, “what chance will the county’s new criminal justice diversity coordinator have to succeed?”
Gonzalez also expressed serious concerns about the ability of the county’s new jail coordinator to speed up the release of inmates awaiting bail, a key element of the new reform plan, given existing management problems at the jail.
Earlier this month, a suspect awaiting bail on a charge of stealing a guitar was beaten to death by inmates in his holding cell – continuing a pattern of violence, abuse and neglect at the jail that was exposed in a 2015 Houston Chronicle investigation. Hickman’s response was to reduce oversight at the jail, including dismantling the investigative unit that had uncovered some of the worst cases of abuse and neglect.
“For the county’s new reform plan to succeed, we must incease oversight, transparency and accountability at the county jail,” said Gonzalez. “That’s why I’m calling on Sheriff Hickman to live up to the values of this new plan by diversifying his command staff and reinstating the jail inspectors he cut earlier this year.”
Ed Gonzalez is a leading candidate in the May 24 Democratic Party primary runoff election for Harris County Sheriff. He is a veteran Houston Police officer who rose to the rank of Sergeant, led murder investigations and served on the elite hostage negotiating team. He served two terms on the City Council, chairing the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and becoming mayor pro-tem. On the Houston City Council, Gonzalez led efforts at criminal justice reform – including creating the Houston Center for Sobriety, which keeps people who need help out of the criminal justice system and allows police officers to spend more time on patrol, catching criminals.