Nearly 50 times in the past four years, a suspect has managed to smuggle a weapon into the Travis County Jail’s central booking facility that has gone undiscovered by arresting officers.
Officials say, given the estimated 45,000 inmates who move through the facility each year, the frequency of such incidents is exceedingly rare. Of the 50 weapons, one was a gun.
Yet the self-inflicted shooting of a 19-year-old in the back of an Austin police car last week raised questions by the public about how the gun in his possession could have gone unnoticed by officers, and it rattled officers themselves — a reminder of how it’s possible to miss weapons during a pat-down search.
The American-Statesman sought to identify the frequency of such oversights by trying to find out how often a suspect carries a weapon all the way from the street to inside the jail.
Records from the Travis County sheriff’s office show that from 2013 through last year, corrections officers found one gun, one stun gun, 40 knives and four razor blades that went undetected by arresting officers.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kristen Dark said jail staff notify police departments and other agencies when that happens.
“We do that for purposes of making sure that we communicate well,” she said. “And that’s an opportunity for these agencies to train better and for us to keep an open dialogue to keep things like this from happening in the future. It keeps us all safe.”
Once an inmate arrives at the jail, corrections officers conduct an additional search of the inmate as they take custody from arresting officers. Frequently, the inmate is also then dressed in a jumpsuit, making it more difficult to conceal a weapon.
Dark said inmates remain in handcuffs once inside the Central Booking Facility.
In last Sunday’s shooting, Austin police are still trying to learn how Zachary Khabir Anam got a gun into the back of a patrol car and whether officers violated policy as they arrested him.
Anam was accused of shoplifting at Barton Creek Square mall and detained.
During the drive to the police station, Anam told officer Iven Wall that he was suicidal, interim Police Chief Brian Manley said. Wall told him that he could speak to counselors at the jail. Anam responded that he didn’t think he could wait that long and grabbed the gun.
Wall then pulled over near the corner of Fifth and Lavaca streets. Wall reported what was happening over the radio and began giving Anam commands to put the gun down.
Police backup arrived and cleared the area. A few minutes later, Anam shot himself once. He was taken to University Medical Center Brackenridge in critical condition, where he died.
Wall and officer John Ricker, who was driving in a separate car behind Wall to escort Anam to the police station, have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation continues.