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Mom wants answers after teen with special needs stabbed, beaten at Harris County Jail

Nineteen-year-old Fred Harris died after being stabbed, kicked and beaten by an inmate more than twice his size, according to attorney Randall Kallinen.

HOUSTON — A Houston mom wants answers after her special needs son was allegedly attacked and killed by another inmate at the Harris County Jail.

Nineteen-year-old Fred Harris died at a Houston hospital after the attack, according to Randall Kallinen, the family's attorney.

He said Fred, who weighed 98 pounds, was stabbed, kicked in the head and beaten by a 240-pound inmate on Oct. 29. Kallinen said 25-year-old Michael Paul Ownby also bashed the victim's head against the concrete floor.

Ownby was charged with aggravated assault with severe bodily injury after the incident.

Records show Ownby was accused of assaulting a guard at the jail the day before Fred was attacked. Ownby's criminal history also includes a charge of violence against a family member in 2020.

According to Kallinen, Fred was in jail because he showed a knife to someone he was afraid of. He said the teen had never been in trouble before and was a well-liked special education student when he attended Stratford High School.

"If you guys met him, you would love him. Anybody that met would absolutely love him," mom Dallas Harris said at a news conference Wednesday. "And when I say he'd dance his way to everyone's heart. He was one of the most kind kids you'd ever meet."

Harris said she rushed to the jail when she learned her son had been arrested and tried to explain that he didn't belong there and should be kept away from the other inmates.

"I said, 'This is not a place for him. He'll never understand.' I spoke with the deputy, we called the medical staff and I didn't leave until I got some answers," Harris said. "And when I left, they said that my son would be OK and that they would handle this. So we're here, now a couple of days later, and this wasn't handled."

Kallinen said inmates and staff at the jail are at high risk because of overcrowding and staffing issues. He's representing deputies and jailers in a federal lawsuit against Harris County, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

"We need more guards, we need more staff so that fights can be stopped, fights can be prevented, people can be separated."

Gonzalez didn't comment on the lawsuit, but he issued this statement about Fred's attack.

“Mr. Harris’ death is a tragedy and adds to the increasing number of lives taken violently in every corner of our society this year. We are determined to ensure that his killer faces justice, and we extend our condolences to Mr. Harris’ family."

Fred's mom said Stratford High School students are planning a celebration of his life.

"Fred was a super loving kid," she said. "He wanted to fit in more than anything."

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