Sheriff says inmate who died after hanging was on suicide watch
Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith shared more details on Thursday about the death of a county jail inmate, including that he had been placed on suicide watch when he entered the jail and had apparently hanged himself with a mattress cover.
Smith, who endured months of controversy and protests after the 2015 suicide of Sandra Bland in the jail he oversees, expressed deep regret at the new incident — the first known suicide in the jail since Bland’s.
“As a sheriff in this state, our responsibility is to take care of those people in that jail. Just as much as we take care of everybody else. We don’t enjoy these deals,” Smith said.
“It’s hard on the jailers. I promise you, I saw the look when I got up there that morning. I saw the look in their eyes and I know personally how they feel to lose someone.”
Evan Lyndell Parker, 34, died a month after an inspection by regulators revealed that jailers didn’t meet certain standards for frequency of observing prisoners — a deficiency also identified after the Bland’s death. Bland’s suicide drew national attention and heightened the conversation about the treatment of African-Americans by police.
Smith said computer errors confirming guard cell checks may have led to some errors in the December inspection report, but said he did not want evade responsibility for the findings. The sheriff said Parker had been monitored closely until he was found shortly before 3 a.m. on Jan. 25.
“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses,” Smith said. “It’s what it sums up to. We got a responsibility to check on them.”
The video monitoring in jails is a result of the Sandra Bland Act, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June 2017. The bill required jails to ramp up around-the-clock monitoring of prisoners and to install sensors or cameras — subject to available funding from a grant program — to ensure “timely in-person checks of cells” containing at-risk prisoners.
Ashton Woods, the founder of Black Lives Matter Houston, said the news of the Waller County inmate made him think of Bland and Vincent Young, a Harris County inmate who committed suicide.
“They have no excuse for what happened,” said Woods. “None. Someone has dropped the ball.”
Tarsha Jackson, an activist with Texas Organizing Project who spoke out after Bland’s death, agreed that Waller County officials need to be held accountable.
“Waller County made a lot of promises after Sandra Bland died in their custody to make changes that would keep the people in their custody safe,” Jackson said in a statement. “Waller County needs to be completely transparent with the results of this investigation and needs to be held accountable.”
Parker was accused on Jan. 9 of killing 64-year-old Harry Parnell and critically injuring 36-year-old Jose Rangel. The three worked at Orizon Industries in Waller County.
Harry Parnell is the father of a Katy Police Department officer. A Galveston native, Parnell was apparently the night superintendent at Orizon Industries and had been employed there for 20 years, according to his obituary.
Smith said Parker reportedly had complained of being picked on at work. Still, it wasn’t immediately clear what led to the workplace stabbing, the sheriff said.
When Parker was booked into the jail on Jan. 10 on murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges, he went through standard inmate screening, Smith said.
Based on the screening, the local mental health authority did not think Parker needed additional treatment. Still, Smith said jail officials believed Parker should be placed on suicide watch for a few days because of the workplace incident.
Parker was taken off suicide watch after three or four days, Smith said. During his time at the jail, he was described as quiet and reserved.
The sheriff gave this account of Parker’s movements on the day before he died:
The inmate went to the nurse’s office for a routine medical visit. During the day, he was seen in the common room area and socialized with the inmate whose cell is next door and with the guards.
Around 11 p.m., he went to his cell to go to bed and was observed at least three or four times. He was checked on around 2:21 a.m. and found inside his cell around 2:57 a.m.
Parker was taken to Hermann Memorial Hospital in Houston, but died on Sunday. The sheriff’s office did not release a public statement about the death until Wednesday.
Smith said officials waited to inform the public because they first wanted to notify Parker’s family members. The Texas Rangers also told sheriff’s office officials they could take over any media requests.
“More than anything, I totally understand the public’s viewpoint of transparency vs. law enforcement. My goal is the same,” Smith said. “That transparency sometimes just takes us a little extra time than what the public expects.”
The FBI and Texas Rangers are investigating, according to a post on the Waller County District Attorney’s Facebook page. Parker’s criminal history includes charges of aggravated robbery, assault, resisting arrest and aggravated assault against a public servant, according to sheriff deputies.