It’s the evening of April 11, 2014. Another prisoner down the tier, Romero Finley, was just taken out of the unit on a gurney, by several guards and a nurse. Finley was suffering one of several recent grand mal seizures, that have seen him back and forth to and from the local emergency room for over a week now. He’d just had two bad seizures the day before.
This sudden onset of attacks has resulted from a nurse Linda Simmons having Finley’s epileptic medication terminated, upon her claims that he’d not been taking them. Not only were her claims a lie, they were retaliation. Her reason: Finley was a vocal witness to her involvement in the November 13, 2013, death of another prisoner, Joseph Comeaux.
Finley had written Comeaux’s widow and several courts in which Comeaux – a victim of longstanding abuses by Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) officials – had pending litigation, informing them that officials at this Clements Unit prison had killed Comeaux. Not only that, but he’d written a complaint to the Texas Board of Nursing seeking an investigation of Simmons for her role in Comeaux’s death. The board had written Finley back informing him that only Comeaux’s next of kin could properly file such a complaint, so he referred the matter to Comeaux’s window.
Right after Finley had written the courts, investigators from the TDCJ’s Inspector General’s office confronted him about the letters, demanding to know why he was saying Clements Unit staff had killed Comeaux. He felt it was a move to intimidate him and cover up what had occurred. But he briefly explained that Simmons and a guard Sergeant Andrew Gratz (Gratz was involved in the killing of another prisoner, Christopher Woolverton, on October 23, 2013), had left Comeaux lying on his cell floor for several hours suffering breathing complications without help. Comeaux was a known asthmatic. When Comeaux was finally brought out of the cell, he died shortly thereafter in the prison’s medical department. The entire event – from the extended period he was left on the floor complaining of inability to breathe, up until he died in the medical department – was audio-video recorded. However, according to various guards, it was being falsely reported that he’d died en route to the hospital and from a heart attack – yet by all witness accounts (guards and prisoners) Comeaux never complained of any cardio related symptoms, only of the inability to breathe. And Simmons came to the cell several times only to tell Comeaux to “calm down inmate,” yet did nothing to help him. Finley was housed in the cell next door to Comeaux.
Comeaux, along with Finley and several other prisoners, anticipated that TDCJ officials would ultimately kill him so Finley promised Comeaux that in the event that he died suspiciously, Finley would inform his wife and the courts of the circumstances surrounding his death. Now, Finley is being targeted for honoring his word to his deceased neighbor.
Comeaux had been threatened with death by TDCJ officials on numerous occasions, and had been subjected to their abuses for a long while. His name was well-known throughout the TDCJ – in fact I’d heard a great deal about him before I was ever assigned to the Clements Unit in 2013 where he was also confined.
Comeaux was known and officially hated in part because of his legal battles against abusive TDCJ conditions. But the major reason was his widely acclaimed alleged escape from TDCJ custody, where it is said he used a gun given to him by guards. And for TDCJ, what added insult to injury was he was handicapped (unable to walk unassisted), he was New Afrikan/Black (a slap in the face to the racist elements in TDCJ), and he never bowed to abuses and threats from officials calculated to force him to reveal how he’d gotten the gun and whom from.
Comeaux was abused by everyone from wardens down to line level guards and medical staff, with many witnesses to his mistreatment, including his widow who also shared in being harassed by TDCJ staff. He was denied visits with his family: his personal and legal property were routinely confiscated; he was subjected to frequent cell and strip/body cavity searches: he was sexually assaulted by guards; guards pointed guns at and threatened to kill him while outside the prison on court runs; medical staff routinely cut his prescriptions for asthma medications short (for example the unit doctor would prescribe his asthma inhaler replaced in 30 days, but nurses would force him to use the same inhaler for 90 days, which would run out causing him respiratory problems and attacks, which is likely what precipitated his death); he was dropped down the stairs by guards (although he was handicapped Comeaux was housed in an upstairs cell and made to walk up and down the stairs with guards’ “assistance” and never given a wheelchair nor taken downstairs by the elevator that was just down the hall from his cell), etc. Finley and many other prisoners were witnesses to these abuses.
During the week of March 16, 2014, nurse Simmons confronted Finley about his letter to the Board of Nursing, screaming at him, “I don’t know why you’re trying to help Comeaux, I didn’t kill him. He killed himself by being a sex offender.” When Finley didn’t reply she repeatedly yelled, “Answer me, dammit! Answer me!” Finley just turned and walked away, leaving Simmons standing at his cell door fuming. She then had his seizure medications terminated with the result stated above.
A Damning Video
Several guards who reported viewing the video of Comeaux’s denied care and death have stated “a lot of heads will roll” if that video is seen outside the TDCJ. The reason, because “they let Comeaux die,” and the unit doctor who was present when Comeaux died, conspicuously made no effort to revive him, but only put a stethoscope to his chest and pronounced him dead, just moments after Comeaux stated to them that he was dying.
Also, on video, Sergeant (now Lieutenant) Gratz had been repeatedly summoned to come to Comeaux’s cell as he lay in distress on the day he died. Gratz refused to come. Ultimately another Sergeant Joshua Branscum was summoned and had Comeaux taken to the medical department, where he promptly died. The recording of Comeaux’s neglect and death was made on portable camera by young Black guard Tyrail Crosby, who suspiciously no longer works for the TDCJ.
I’d specifically heard Crosby on several occasions tell other guards and prisoners that he’d witnessed and was disturbed by what happened to Comeaux. One veteran TDCJ guard David Dwight told him in response that he should “get used to seeing the bottoms of their feet,” because prisoners dying at Clements Unit is a “regular thing.” Various prisoners who’ve been confined at this unit for several years also have told me much the same, and all whom I’ve talked to about this have witnessed others die after seeking yet being denied medical help in situations where emergency care was obviously warranted.
Indeed, another widely recognized TDCJ prisoner David Ruiz, was also the victim of murder by medical neglect. Ruiz was responsible for the historic lawsuit brought in the 1970s that led to sweeping charges of openly barbaric conditions in the TDCJ.1 He was left to suffer from undisclosed (although known to do TDCJ officials) and untreated cancer, chronic hepatitis and gall stones, from which he ultimately died in 2005.2
TDCJ Rewards Killer Guards
If anyone needs an idea how deeply TDCJ corruption runs, consider that Gratz was recently promoted to lieutenant after involvement in two controversial prisoner deaths. And only days after his promotion Gratz came to my assigned cell to flaunt his rewarded status. He, pointing smilingly to his lieutenant insignia, asked if I were “doing okay.” When I responded with only a blank stare he responded “yeah me too,” and walked away whistling.
On several prior occasions he had alerted others that he was aware and read of my involvements in publicizing his role in killing Woolverton on October 133, whom Gratz had repeatedly sprayed with large quantities of OC gas as he lay on his cell floor unresponsive and in obvious medical distress. Woolverton, who ironically had also complained of inability to breathe and was also a known asthmatic, was left still gas contaminated by Gratz, lying naked on the cell floor without his asthma inhalers, where he died several hours later.
So now Finley’s family and parole lawyer fear for his safety and worry that further retaliations will take the form of negative matter being put in his record which will cause him to remain in administrative segregation and be denied upcoming parole. Their advice to him is to cave in to official terrorism and forsake Comeaux’s cause. I in turn have counseled him to stand firm and to expose what’s being done to him, and in support of this advice I’ve written this article.
Dare to struggle. Dare to win!
All Power to the People!
ADDENDUM: Rashid has indicated that the prisoner in question is not imprisoned as ‘Romero,’ so any inquiries about him should refer to his actual incarcerated name and TDCJ # … Jaicourrie Finley #1354674. As of May 7, 2014, he is still not receiving his seizure medications.
- See Ruiz v Estelle, 503 F Supp. 1265 (SD Tex. 1980) and following rulings. [↩]
- Gloria Rubac, “Historic Prison Activist David Ruiz Dies” (Nov 27 2005) [↩]
- Karl Kersplebedeb, “Asthmatic Prisoner Doused with Pepper Spray, Refuse Medical Care, Dies: Just Another Day in the Texas Prison System,” Socialist Viewpoint Vol. 14 No. 1, January/ February 2014. pp 57 – 58 www.socialistviewpoint.org [↩]