Rolling Out

Mother of Black special needs teen stabbed to death in jail speaks out

Garcia opens up about the changes she’d like to see
Mother of Black special needs teen stabbed to death in jail speaks out
Fred Harris. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Garcia)

In October 2021, a citizen called the police on Fred Harris, a mentally impaired Texas teen who wanted nothing more than acceptance from his peers. The caller claimed he had a knife on his person and was behaving in a violent manner. Once police arrived, they did not find a weapon on his person, his mother said, but he was arrested anyway. When Dallas Garcia, Harris’ mother, received a call her son was behind bars, she pleaded with the authorities to release him and telling them that jail wasn’t the right environment for the special needs teen who needs medication needed to be.

Harris remained incarcerated and died in his cell on Oct. 29, 2021. Allegedly, his cell mate Michael Ownby, a man nearly three times his size at 240 pounds, stabbed and killed the 98-pound Harris in the cell. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez referred to Harris’ death as a “murder” in a tweet following his death.

In 2019, 143 state prisoners were murdered, according to Statista. That’s 103 more homicides than the number in 2008, the first year the study began. Seven Texas prisoners were charged with the murder of two inmates in a January attack that caused a nationwide federal prison lockdown. A June 2021 study from the University of Texas revealed over 10,700 state prisoners were approved for parole. Garcia has sued the Harris County Jail, claiming the facility was not properly staffed to prevent the fatal attack from occurring.

Recently, Garcia spoke to rolling out about her son and her mission.

What do you think needs to be changed in the justice system and the way it deals with individuals with special needs?

I think for children with special needs or on any spectrum, laws need to change. Their mother and father should not lose custody of them if they turn 18. Your child is not going to be special needs for some magic number of days. As soon as they hit 18, they’re not going to automatically [become independent].

Laws need to be changed to where parents still have rights for medical care and rights over their children until they take a competency test or something. There’s no way that my 18-year-old son, that mentally wasn’t 18 years old, [should’ve been in that facilty.]  There was nothing I could do. I had no control. I had no say over anything.

I would call adult CPS on him all the time, saying, “Hey! He’s left the house,” and they would say, “Ma’am, he’s 18. There’s nothing we can do.”

In 2020, following the George Floyd murder the call to defund the police went out and recommended reallocating funds to other agencies better equipped to handle social issues Where do you stand on that?

I believe the police are going to make a difference. I believe they’re not properly trained. I believe when you’re put in a situation where there are no restroom breaks, as I read in a lawsuit, there are not enough people to work [in the jails.] You’re scared of inmates, and some inmates are scary.

Being properly trained and having the proper amount of people at the work facility would … change a lot of things.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Join our Newsletter

Sign up for Rolling Out news straight to your inbox.

Read more about:
Also read
Rolling Out