Someone is misrepresenting the seriousness of suicides happening in Bexar County jail. According to Sheriff Ortiz, it's the San Antonio Current. We say it's Sheriff Ortiz.
We got notice Ortiz was holding a press conference the day our story on jail suicides hit the streets Wednesday. We wish we could have been there, but as luck would have it we were across the state exploring fracking and sage dune lizards. Apparently, Ortiz has accused us of “misleading” the public about his record at the jail. What we said is that after he took office jail suicides “soared” under his watch.
It should be a simple matter to divine. Here's the count since 1999:
Are we the only ones that see a liftoff here? Suicides in the four years since 2009? 15. Suicides in the four years before that? 5. In the four years before that? 5.
Ortiz may dispute two of those suicides we're crediting him with, as one involves a Bexar County inmate transferred to Crystal City. The other in dispute involves a bureaucratic slight of hand that much more closely fits the charge of “misleading” the public.
It took us two weeks of scheduling to get Ortiz to sit down for 30 minutes to talk about suicide prevention at the jail recently and what recommendations he has or has not implemented from Lindsey Hayes' critical report in 2010 (some but not all, is what we found).
Ortiz seems to take issue with the story since there have been "only" 2 in-custody suicides in 2012. We hope it stays that way and no more deaths occur in stir. But it's worth remembering that 2012 isn't over. Years 2009, 2010 and 2011 all witnessed suicides in October, November or December.
We even wrote in the first section of the piece: “So far in 2012, two jail inmates have taken their own lives, a sign, Ortiz insists, that changes made under his watch are starting to work.”
But thank the ghost of Marshall McLuhan the media came roaring out of the gate to defend our reputation and those nine months we spent fighting the DA and Bexar County Sheriff for the public records that went into assembling our feature story.
Did we say defend us? Sloppy reporting piled over misleading assertions by Ortiz collided in the unusual brain of KSAT reporter Jennifer Dodd. She called reporter Michael Barajas for comment. Too bad the only quote she used was a misquote. We asked her what the inaccuracies were we were accused of. She said, basically, Sheriff Ortiz “had a problem” with the story's headline (Have jail suicides “soared” in 2012? We'll concede, no. Have they soared during his near four-year block as sheriff? Absolutely.) She read us back his quote alleging we “mislead the general public.”
How's this for misleading the public?
In 2011, a year after Hayes' delivered his report to the county, suicides jumped again to 4 – it didn't stay steady at 3, as Ortiz claims. When Adrian Rodriguez died at University Hospital two days after hanging himself inside his cell at the jail, Bexar County used a bureaucratic paperwork trick to keep him off the jail's official suicide tally with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. While he lay unresponsive in a hospital bed, the sheriff's office somehow got the DA's office and a local judge to push through a public recognizance bond. Rodriguez's suicide was therefore not “in-custody,” jail officials said. Scott Henson at Grits For Breakfast wrote last year, “One wonders how many other jail suicides have been whitewashed off the books in Bexar County in this fashion?”
That's all information Dodd could have reported. She didn't. “I have to go by the sheriff's numbers ... I can't use research from another reporter.”
Too bad. Because our reporter had the right ones.