An Asian-American man was found hanging in his jail cell in the Houston Police Department on July 23, making him the fourth person to die in Houston police custody in eight days. Thirty-eight-year-old Hung Do was arrested last Wednesday for possession of a controlled substance, and was booked into a downtown Houston jail after passing a physical and mental health screening conducted by City Department of Health Officials. The next day, he was found dead in his cell after reportedly hanging himself with his pants, according to Houston police.
"By all accounts, he was a model prisoner," said HPD spokesman Kese Smith. "[There were] no issues at all, according to what we can determine from inmates and the jailers we've spoken to."
Do's death came just 11 days after Sandra Bland was found dead in her Waller county jail cell, about 50 miles northwest of the Houston jail in which Do was held. Witnesses said that Do made a phone call at lunchtime on Thursday, and grew agitated when he couldn't reach the person he was attempting to call. Then, Houston police said, Do asked to be taken back to his cell, where he was alone. After lunch, one of Do's two cellmates returned to find his body.
According to the Texas Attorney General's Office, 17 people die in HPD custody on average each year. In the week leading up to Do's death, three people also died in HPD custody, two of whom didn't even make it to a jail cell. On July 18, a man who was bleeding when he entered a convenience store in Houston charged a police officer who tried to help him, and died on the way to the hospital after being momentarily detained.
The next day, Felix Ybarra II was booked into jail after evading arrest on foot, and less than 24 hours later, he was taken to a hospital due to an "unknown medical emergency." He died at the hospital. And then, just a few days before Do's death, a woman was arrested for public intoxication and died at a hospital after being found unresponsive when she arrived at the jail.
Do's death is under investigation by the Houston Police Department's homicide division, internal affairs division, and the Harris County District Attorney's Office. The deaths of Bland, Kindra Chapman, Rexdale Henry, Ralkina Jones, and others over the past couple weeks have exposed an alarming trend in which people of color are dying in police custody. And yet, according to Smith, it is unlikely that the HPD will be as transparent in its investigation into Do's death as officials are having to be in Bland's case.
Images: KPRC 2 (1), Getty Images (1)