The deaths of multiple inmates in North Texas jails are drawing a spotlight on the difficulty of caring for prisoners with mental health issues and other medical conditions.

Over the last four years, three inmates in Tarrant County jail have died from severe dehydration despite having access to water in their cells.

The first of these tragedies occurred in the summer of 2020 when Abdullahi Mohamed, a bipolar man with a history of manic episodes, was booked on aggravated assault charges. Despite his documented mental health condition, Mohamed’s deteriorating physical state went unnoticed until it was too late.

After a jailer noticed that Mohamed had not eaten his provided meal, the inmate was taken by wheelchair for a medical evaluation. Mohamed stopped breathing and died an hour later at the hospital, per WFAA.

Months later, Georgia Baldwin, a former hairdresser with mental illness, was found not competent to stand trial. A judge ordered that she be placed in a state mental hospital. However, wait times for an open bed at such institutions can vary anywhere from 200 days to about 18 months, as WFAA reported, so Baldwin was placed in Tarrant County jail in the interim.

Having been arrested on felony charges following threatening phone calls, Baldwin exhibited signs of paranoia and delusion. Refusing mental health care and medications, she spiraled further into her psychosis while awaiting trial. She died in September 2021. Her death, like Mohamed’s, was attributed to severe dehydration.

Chief Deputy Charles Eckert, who oversaw the Tarrant County jail during that time, told WFAA, “The Sheriff’s Department can’t hold people down and force water into their mouth; they have to make the conscious choice to walk over to the sink and drink water.”

In December 2021, Edgar Villatoro-Alvarez was booked into the Tarrant County jail. Hospitalized for bipolar disorder just a month prior, he exhibited erratic behavior during his time in custody. Mental health workers repeatedly noted his distress, yet his deteriorating condition went unaddressed until it was too late. WFAA reported that Alvarez was found motionless in his cell in February 2022 after he ceased eating, drinking, and taking his medications in the days leading up to his death.

The deaths of Mohamed, Baldwin, and Villatoro-Alvarez have prompted scrutiny of Tarrant County jail’s policies regarding mental health care. Eckert testified that inmates are responsible for their own self-maintenance, absolving the jail of any obligation to monitor water intake.

Other inmate deaths in Tarrant County jail not linked to dehydration have been reported this year, totaling six.

Last month, Chasity Bonner, a 35-year-old inmate, died after being found unresponsive in her cell hours after refusing further medical treatment during a routine check-up.

Fox 4 KDFW reported that Bonner had been held since May 16 on charges of felony theft of property and parole violation. Although her cause of death is listed as “pending,” the sheriff’s office said she was administered Narcan twice before being taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, where she died.

Narcan is used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.

This latest incident intensified calls for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding inmate deaths in the custody of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Eckert announced his retirement after nearly four years overseeing the county jail. He said his decision was unrelated to the inmate deaths.

His retirement followed criticism from Tarrant County commissioners after the death of 31-year-old Anthony Ray Johnson Jr., who died after being restrained following a fight with jailers. Johnson was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had multiple weapons his cell.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office completed an autopsy and determined Johnson’s death was homicide due to mechanical and chemical asphyxia.

Attorney Daryl Washington released a statement on behalf of Johnson’s family. He claimed the events leading to Johnson’s death included excessive restraint, pepper spray use, and prolonged pressure on his body.

Eckert, who received praise for his service, defended his retirement choice, noting that after 32 years in law enforcement, it was the right time.

Tarrant County Commissioner Alisa Simmons sees Eckert’s retirement as an opportunity for innovative leadership to prevent further deaths in the jail. Despite this, Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Robbie Hoy dismissed any negative suggestions about Eckert’s service and instead emphasized his contributions, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Still, inmate deaths in North Texas have not been isolated to Tarrant County. Dallas County reported that more than a dozen inmates died in custody at its jail facility in 2023, per WFAA.

Two of those deaths occurred in August, one of which was attributed to natural causes. Claude Joiner, 66, died on August 7 due to liver cancer. Charles Thomas, 41, was found unresponsive in his cell and pronounced dead on August 9. A cause of death has not been spotlighted by the press.

More than 1,000 prisoners die in U.S. jails each year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, with Texas jails accounting for one out of every 10, Prison Legal News reported in 2019.