HOUSTON — Deputies did not conduct a complete search of a Houston-area high school student who had threatened to hurt himself and failed to find a hidden gun he used to shoot himself with while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, officials said Thursday.
A full search wasn't done because the 17-year-old student was not under arrest and had only been detained Wednesday at his campus so authorities could get him help, said Capt. Jon Moore with the Harris County Precinct 3 constable's office.
Searching for safety: Cuffed, armed, and in the back of a squad
By Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief
For the second time in less than six months, a handcuffed subject in the back of a squad car was able to draw a concealed firearm from somewhere on his person and attempt suicide. In the case this week, a Houston-area high school student was reported in critical but stable condition and looks like he may survive after he managed to shoot himself while in custody for his own protection.
Late Thursday, more details emerged. The Associated Press quoted Capt. Jon Moore of the Harris County Precinct 3 constable’s office as saying that a full search wasn’t done because the student was not under arrest and had only been detained at his campus so authorities could get him help.
In the July incident in Jonesboro (Ark.), 21-year-old Chavis Carter — who had been arrested after police learned he had an outstanding arrest warrant related to a drug charge in Mississippi — managed to fatally shoot himself in the head while seated in the back of a police car.
Law enforcement officials gather outside North Shore High School in Galena Park, Texas Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Police say a high school student taken into custody after he sent a text message to a friend saying he wanted to hurt himself shot himself with a hidden gun while handcuffed inside a patrol car. (AP Image)
"As of right now, preliminarily, there does not appear to be any violation of policy and procedure," Moore said. "I hate to say mistakes happen. I wish we could say that we did not make mistakes or officers did not, but that might have been what happened."
The student, a senior whose name was not released, remained in intensive care at a Houston hospital Thursday.
Authorities were alerted Wednesday about the student after he had sent a text message to a friend saying he wanted to hurt himself. The friend told a North Shore High School administrator, who then contacted a deputy with the constable's office, which provides security on campus, said Jonathan Frey, a spokesman for the Galena Park school district.
The deputy, who was on the 3,000 student campus, found the student in a restroom.
"The student was refusing to obey verbal commands. He was agitated, had not become aggressive. But the deputy was concerned he was so he called for assistance," Moore said.
A second deputy came and the student was searched, handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car, Moore said. Only one of the deputies searched the student.
"It was a pat-down frisk, it wasn't a complete ... I run my hands through your waistband, I go all the way down to your socks, take your shoes off type of search because they were not arresting him, they were detaining him," he said.
The deputies did not know the student might have a weapon, said Moore, who added the student was wearing loose clothing.
"Their concern was getting him to EMS," he said.
Deputies were driving the student to a hospital when he retrieved a gun he had on him and shot himself in the back of the head.
"How did they miss it? They missed it," Moore said.
The deputies involved in the incident remain on active duty.
Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the Harris County sheriff's office, which is investigating the shooting, said evidence is pointing to the student's injury being the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and not an accidental discharge. The sheriff's office investigation and the internal affairs probe by the constable's office are still ongoing.
Frey said administrators and constables acted as quickly as possible to get to the student.
"We're glad this student's friend came forward and told an administrator their issues and concerns. ... Hopefully in the end, they saved this kid's life," he said.
Wednesday's shooting is similar to one in July in Jonesboro, Ark. In that incident, 21-year-old Chavis Carter was in the back of a patrol car when he fatally shot himself in the head while his hands were cuffed behind his back. A state crime lab report concluded that Carter was on meth at the time.
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In 2006, Houston police officer Rodney Johnson was fatally shot by a suspect, Juan Leonardo Quintero-Perez, after he had been arrested, handcuffed and placed him in the back of his patrol car after a traffic stop. Johnson apparently missed finding a gun on Quintero-Perez. Quintero-Perez was later convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.