By Darrell Todd Maurina
Parmer County Sheriff: Reason for death remains a mystery.
Parmer County Sheriff Randy Geries said he doesn’t know what he could have done differently to prevent the Feb. 22 hanging death of one of his jail inmates.
Phillip Morris Griggs Jr., 22, of Bovina was found hanging that afternoon in a cell where he was housed alone. Geries said the death occurred sometime between routine cell checks at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. that day.
“We have no earthly idea why he did this; we’ve found no motive,” Geries said. “We do everything we can possibly do to prevent something like this from happening. If someone is intent on doing that and don’t give you any indication of their intent, I don’t think we can completely rule this out. We’d have to put people in a straitjacket and a rubber cell.”
Geries said Griggs was arrested Feb. 1 for driving while intoxicated. As a result of that arrest, he faced possible revocation of his probation on an earlier drug conviction. But Geries said Griggs didn’t give any indication that he was especially troubled by facing additional jail time. In fact, Griggs was receiving special privileges as an inmate trustee because the jail staff believed he wasn’t a risk for inappropriate behavior.
“He’s been in and out of trouble with the law and I’ve probably known him for at least two or three years,” Geries said. “We were comfortable around him and he was comfortable with us as well.”
Griggs’ mother and sister declined comment until the family could retain an attorney to help them decide what to do next.
Justice of the Peace Pam Haseloff was called to the jail Feb. 22 to pronounce Geries dead. She said the new jail — which will have an open house Saturday — is better-designed and suicides should be less likely.
“In the old jail there are bars; in the new jail it’s all cinder block so there is nothing they could do this on,” Haseloff said. “I don’t know if we could have done anything different because everything was done correctly in the old jail. Everybody always tries to make improvements, and we are really looking forward to the new jail and more security.”
Haseloff said she’d gotten the preliminary autopsy results back which confirmed Griggs’ death was caused by asphyxiation. She is now waiting for investigation results from the Texas Rangers.
Texas Ranger Martin Hood said his investigation is nearly complete and he doesn’t expect any charges will be brought against jail officials.
“The only thing we have pending now is the formal autopsy results. We could always have something come back we don’t anticipate, but that’s what we’re waiting on now,” Hood said. “When we have that report I will forward it to the justice of the peace and also the district attorney’s office in Parmer County. I believe we will present this to the grand jury to see if there is any criminal wrongdoing. I do not anticipate that at this time.”
Hood said his role is to provide an impartial investigation of the sheriff’s department for a number of counties, but he hasn’t had a jail death in Parmer County since he began working seven years ago. Haseloff said she’s lived in Parmer County for 20 years but didn’t know of any jail deaths.