- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—9:15 p.m. update: An incident report obtained by the American-Statesman shows that firefighters could still smell tear gas as they entered the site of a small fire at the Travis County Jail complex on Saturday.

The fire occurred in Building G of the complex in Del Valle, where the first responding firefighters noted they could still smell CS gas — the main component in tear gas — and smoke inside the building, the incident report said.

Travis County Fire Rescue oversaw the scene, demobilizing most of the emergency response after firefighters determined the fire had not spread from the cell in which they found a mattress smoldering, the report said.

One inmate in the cell where the fire started had injuries, the report said. After firefighters made an initial assessment of him, he was taken by ambulance to University Medical Center Brackenridge, the report said.

Jail medical staff also requested that firefighters provide a medical assessment of the other 19 inmates in the affected pod in Building G. Fire Chief Ken Bailey asked staff if any inmates had complaints of injuries, to which jail staff replied no, the report said.

Earlier: Tear gas fired into a jail cell was the cause of a small fire at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle on Saturday that sent one inmate to the hospital, a fire official said.

Jail staff threw a tear gas canister into the cell of an inmate who had placed a piece of paper over the window into his cell, a fire official who was not authorized to comment publicly on the incident said.

It caused a mattress to catch fire and smolder, the fire official said. The fire was small and was easily extinguished, but the smoke and gas forced an inmate evacuation from the building, the official said.

Travis County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Lisa Block declined to provide any information about the incident, but she did say that the injured inmate was out of the hospital and back in the jail.

The gas affected other inmates and left the sister of a man housed at the jail questioning the tactics of jail staff. Courtney Runkle’s brother Brandon Wright has been in the Travis County jail system since July 9, when he was arrested and charged with public intoxication.

Wright, 30, was not taken to the hospital, but he was in a cell about 15 feet from the where jail staff tossed the tear gas canister.

“I don’t think a person having a paper on a window should warrant throwing tear gas in a cell,” said Runkle, who spoke to her brother twice Monday. “If you are going to do that, you need to know how to clean up that mess.”

Runkle was upset to hear how the gas had affected her brother. Wright told her the gas seeped into his cell and he tried to avoid the gas by sticking his head in the cell’s toilet. But it still got into his eyes, causing him pain as it irritated the contacts he was wearing, she said.

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(c)2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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