BC-JAILERS-HNS

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm •  Published: April 24, 2014
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The convicted heroin dealer wanted some cigarettes, Cool Ranch Doritos, Jolly Ranchers, meals from McDonald's, deodorant, a toothbrush - and a cellphone to call his girlfriend.

A civilian jailer at the Harris County jail filled the order and later collected a $25 fee from the inmate's girlfriend. Jailer Branden C. Paez allegedly had a similar deal with two other inmates that included bringing in home-cooked meals.

On Wednesday, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia announced charges against Paez, 20, of Spring, the fifth civilian jailer charged in recent months with bringing a variety of contraband into the Harris County jail system. Paez, charged with bringing contraband into a correctional facility, had been on the job 13 months when Garcia fired him in September.

The charges against Paez and the other four jailers raise questions about the screening process used by Garcia to hire the 1,300 full-time and part-time civilian jailers, who along with 165 deputies guard nearly 9,000 inmates in the county's jails.

County Commissioner Steve Radack, a former law enforcement officer, expressed concern that dangerous inmates could obtain weapons.

''I'm certainly concerned about sheriff's personnel providing contraband inside of the jail, and it's happening frequently enough that there's obviously a big problem that needs to be corrected," Radack said. "There are obviously methods that could be in place to stop this activity. It's unfortunate to think sheriff's personnel working in the jail need to be searched before going to work to prevent taking contraband into the jail such as drugs and cellphones."

Phones long a problem

Smuggling cellphones into jails has been a long-standing problem in Texas prisons, and in 2008 prompted a prison-wide lockdown after death row inmates made thousands of calls with smuggled phones. One condemned inmate called state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, to say that he knew where the lawmaker's children lived.

In February 2013, federal agents arrested 13 guards at the McConnell Unit in Beeville on charges that they took bribes to smuggle drugs and cellphones into the state prison.