A Galveston County Jail deputy died Friday evening, weeks after contracting and being hospitalized with COVID-19, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
Deputy Michael “Mickey” Stevens had worked for the sheriff’s office at different times throughout his life, Trochesset said.
Most recently, he rejoined the ranks in 2015 and worked as a guard in the Galveston County Jail. He was 68 years old.
Trochesset confirmed Stevens had been diagnosed with COVID-19 last month and was hospitalized after the diagnosis. He did not know whether the virus was Stevens’ official cause of death, he said.
The death prompted calls from local defense attorneys for better information about COVID-19 cases in the jail.
According to an online obituary, Stevens was born and reared in Galveston and at times worked at local funeral homes and as a property manager. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, he moved from Galveston to El Paso, where he worked in security in the oil and gas industry, according to the obituary.
Stevens is the first identified Galveston County employee to die after being diagnosed and hospitalized with the virus. His death comes three weeks after Trochesset confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at the county jail.
Trochesset on Monday said he did not know whether Stevens contracted the virus at the jail, although his illness coincided with an increase in cases at the jail.
“We are saddened at the passing of any county employee for any reason,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in a statement Monday. “Recently, our county family lost Sheriff Deputy Michael Stevens and our deepest condolences and prayers go out to his family. Deputy Stevens served the people of Galveston County with honor, and he will be missed.”
NUMBERS AT THE JAIL
As of Monday, 11 jail employees and 11 prisoners had been diagnosed with active cases of COVID-19, Trochesset said. One prisoner was hospitalized and being treated in an intensive care unit for COVID-19, Trochesset said.
Monday’s numbers are lower than have been tallied in the jail at other times in recent weeks. As recently as two weeks ago, as many as 49 prisoners had been diagnosed with the virus and put into isolation cells in attempt to stop the spread in the facility.
There were 826 people being held in the jail as of Monday.
Up until the outbreak occurred, neither guards nor prisoners were required to wear masks inside the jail. That changed after the sheriff’s office announced that 12 cases had been diagnosed inside the jail on July 13, Trochesset said. Up until that point, mask-wearing inside the facility had been optional.
Trochesset said he didn’t know whether an earlier masking order would have prevented the outbreak in the jail.
“How do you know?” Trochesset said. “I wouldn’t know that.”
The city of Galveston implemented a mandatory mask order inside businesses on June 23, and the state of Texas required people to wear masks inside of businesses and other public buildings beginning July 3. The changes inside the jail didn’t happen until weeks after those mandates.
Aside from the masks, Trochesset defended the measures the jail has taken since the pandemic began, including isolating new inmates for up to two weeks before allowing them into the jail’s general population areas and screening employees for symptoms every day before they were allowed into the jail.
“If someone has a better process, we’d love to know what that would be,” he said.
ATTORNEYS REACH OUT
Since the recent outbreak inside the jail began, some local defense attorneys have pressured the sheriff and judicial officials to take the issue more seriously.
Defense attorney Susan Criss, a former district court judge, said the county should be issuing regular updates on the number of cases inside the jail and release specific details about its plans to curb the spread between prisoners, guards and other people who use the jail and court building.
“Nobody is notified,” Criss said. “You get it through the grapevine.”
The lack of information has made it difficult to advocate for people who are still in jail and to know what other measures might be considered, Criss said.
“I don’t want any of my clients to die,” she said, adding that stricter precautions in the jail would also protect jail employees and visiting attorneys. She has submitted a public information request asking for the names of people connected to the jail who have been diagnosed with the virus.
Criss is running as a Democrat for a seat in the Texas Senate in this year’s election.
There have been COVID-19 outbreaks in many jails and prisons across Texas and the county. As of last week, more than 13,000 inmates in Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons had tested positive for COVID-19. There is no statewide count of the number of people in county and city jails who have tested positive.
At least 94 state prisoners have died with COVID-19.
Nearly 2,900 state prison employees have been infected with COVID-19, according to The Texas Tribune. At least 14 of those people have died.