In the past 10 years, thousands have died while in legal custody of Texas law enforcement

Posted August 16

Nearly 7,000 people died while in custody of Texas law enforcement in the past decade, according to the online database Texas Justice Initiative. (Deseret Photo)

Nearly 7,000 people died while in custody of Texas law enforcement in the past decade, according to a new online database.

The Texas Justice Initiative, which launched last week, is a searchable database sharing information about deaths that occurred in Texas police offices, jails or prisons: reports that were submitted to the Texas attorney general.

The database shows that Texas has a disproportionate number of custodial deaths compared with national statistics. The Atlantic cited data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and noted that 16,000 people died in legal custody between 2007 and 2010 across the United States, whereas 6,913 people died between 2005 and 2015 in Texas alone.

Causes of death included natural causes, suicide, homicide by other inmates or officers, cardiac arrest and more, The Atlantic reported.

On average, Texas saw 623 deaths in custody each year, which spiked to 683 in 2015. Pre-booking deaths rose the most of any custodial deaths, with 83 reported in 2005 and 153 in 2015.

The Texas Justice Initiative also found disparities in the races of those who died in custody. While 12 percent of the population of Texas is black, African-Americans made up 30 percent of custodial deaths in the state. White people made up 42 percent of the deaths and Hispanics made up 28 percent.

Furthermore, "justifiable homicide" was the leading cause of non-natural death for black and Hispanic males. Suicide was the leading cause for white men and women.

Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral legal fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Atlantic that she created the database with the intention of giving families of the victims more information.

"Some family members may not have gotten a full account of how their loved one died, so in that way I feel some responsibility about making the information public," Woog said.

That information includes name, age, race, gender, date of death, cause of death and official summaries of incidents that occurred after 2013.

The online database launched a little over a year after the controversial traffic stop of Sandra Bland by a Texas police officer. Officials marked it as a suicide when she was found hanged in her jail cell three days after the stop.

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