NEW DETAILS: Sheriff Answers Questions About Inmate's Death - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: newswest9.com |

NEW DETAILS: Sheriff Answers Questions About Inmate's Death

ECTOR COUNTY, TX (KWES) -

Officials released new details Thursday about the death of a 27-year-old Ector County Detention Center inmate.

Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson said authorities were aware Tommy "TJ" Garza Jr. had special medical needs before he was found unresponsive Tuesday night in his jail cell.

He began responding after medics arrived, Donaldson told NewsWest 9, but reportedly began vomiting and became unresponsive again while waiting for an ambulance.

"[Paramedics] started CPR on him... and once the ambulance arrived, [their EMS team] took over," the sheriff said. "[They] took him to [Medical Center Hospital in Odessa] and he died at the hospital."

Authorities were unable to discuss Garza's medical records in detail, due to HIPAA laws, but confirmed jail medics had been called to check on him at least twice in three days before he was found unresponsive Tuesday night.

Donaldson said he did not know if Garza had called for medical attention on his own, or if "other inmates may have noticed" he was unwell and notified Detention Center officers. He declined to answer questions about the condition or symptoms Garza was treated for.

The father of three was arrested November 8 on outstanding warrants out of Scurry County, officials said.

Garza's family told NewsWest 9 they believe his medical needs were neglected during his three-day stint behind bars.

"He called me three days in a row and said [jailers] denied him medical attention and denied his meds," his father, Tommy Rodriguez, said. "This was indeed a wrongful death."

He added he has retained an attorney and plans to take legal action.

According to Garza's stepmother, Kari Bliss, he had respiratory issues following exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas within the past year.

"[He] was under medical care and had an oxygen tank," she explained. "He told them he couldn't breathe and needed his oxygen... They let him lay there and die."

However, Donaldson revealed Thursday to NewsWest 9 that Garza had not arrived at the jail with an oxygen tank or submitted documentation verifying he required one.

"I can't talk about medications... but I will say he did not come into jail with an oxygen tank," he said. "If he had come in with one and he needed it... he would have had it... We've other other inmates with oxygen tanks before."

Donaldson added he is "upset... any time there's a death in any jail," and urged "everybody passing judgment" to wait until more information emerges in autopsy results and toxicology reports.

Texas Rangers are leading the ongoing investigation into Garza's death.

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