The arrest of a 77-year-old attorney may be the first of many in the case of drugs being smuggled into the Harris County Jail.
Defense attorney Ronald Lewis is charged with two counts of having a prohibited substance in a correctional facility.
He was arrested on Friday during a visit to the jail and found to be in possession of 11 sheets of paper believed to be soaked in drugs, according to Lt. J. Wheeler with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations and Security Division. Wheeler said those papers will be tested to confirm.
Wheeler said an investigation was launched in June following the death of two inmates earlier this year, as well as several others having adverse reactions to the drugs.
In July, authorities said they received information from sources in the jail that Lewis was bringing in papers soaked in K2, PCP, and “Spice” when he visited inmates. From July to November, he visited 14 inmates who were not his clients.
“Inmates would pay the attorney $250 to $500 to bring in the laced papers,” Wheeler said.
According to Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Smith, who is assigned to the case, inmates were selling them inside the jail, and others were smoking them. She said that makes it difficult to trace who took the drugs and where they originated from.
“We found that out through jail calls, through videos of attorneys coming to visit their clients and then passing papers on video to their client, something that they know well that they’re not supposed to be doing,” Smith said.
Last week, three inmates died within a matter of five days. Smith said they were all related to drug overdoses. The medical examiner has not made a determination on their causes of death.
Investigators are working to determine who brought the drugs into the jail because, during the investigation, numerous people have been found to be smuggling the prohibited substances. Authorities said several attorneys are involved, although they do not appear to work together.
Throughout the investigation, 154 drug-soaked papers have been confiscated.
If the drugs that caused the deaths of inmates are determined to have originated from Lewis, then Smith said his charges could be upgraded to murder.
Additionally, more charges are expected for others involved in the smuggling.
When asked why the arrest happened months after learning about the drugs being smuggled in, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said, “I think our team wanted to do their due diligence and be thorough. It’s a very unique situation when you’re talking about someone entrusted with protecting the laws and being a key actor in the criminal justice system and also the testing part of it.”
At this point, Lewis’ relationship with the inmates he visited is unknown.
Lewis posted his $15,000 bond and was released from custody. His attorney, Tyrone Moncriffe, did not return calls for comment.
Gonzalez said they are in the process of transitioning the jail to a digital system. Still, in the meantime, they have implemented measures to prevent prohibited substances from entering the facility. He said they have three drug dogs that now work in the jail. He also said they make attorneys make copies of papers they want to bring in for their clients, so they are using the jail’s paper. The same is done for mail.