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An unlocked cell, a dangerous inmate and an assault fuel speculation and rumor at Texas prison

An offender walks past a sign on a wall at the the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas, in 2014.
Adrees Latif
An offender walks past a sign on a wall at the the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas, in 2014.

Quinton Cox is so dangerous that he isn’t allowed to be interviewed by journalists in-person. The Texas prison, where he has lived for years, will refuse to move the convicted murderer to the steel visiting cages. He has assaulted so many guards and inmates, it doesn’t want to risk moving him from the maximum security wing where he resides.

It was a mystery then how Cox could exit his cell late last year without obstruction and assault another prisoner.

How could one of the most violent men, living in the most secure section of Coffield prison emerge and attack an unsuspecting and shackled inmate being escorted back to his cell from a shower?

The resulting melee left an inmate bleeding profusely, ended a sargeant’s career, and fueled speculation and rumor of an organized plot throughout the prison.

The assault was in the afternoon as Servando Dominguez was being placed back in his cell after time in the day room and then a shower. He was nearly locked back in when Cox quietly opened his cell door and advanced on the man pushing a guard out of the way.

“Cox had a weapon in his hand which was a shaving razor that he removed the plastic guard on,” said Jeremiah Stevenson, an inmate who witnessed the attack. “Cox sliced Dominguez across the face.”

Dominguez, himself a convicted sex offender, said he was stabbed repeatedly in the face and neck nine times.

“I was covered in blood,” wrote Dominguez in an email on December 22, 2023, two days after the attack.

“His whole face was bloody; he had a three-inch gash cut from top of his head [and another] three-inch gash on [the] side of his head by the ear…,” said Stevenson.

Coffield Unit
Paul Flahive
Coffield Unit

The official description for Cox’s assault on Dominguez was brief.

“On Dec. 20, 2023, staff responded to inmate-on-inmate assault at the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, Texas,” wrote Amanda Hernandez, TDCJ director of communications. “The inmate assailant was quickly restrained, and the incident concluded. The inmate assaulted received minor injuries and was treated by on-site medical personnel. The Office of Inspector General is investigating.”

The Office of the Inspector General confirmed that it was notified, but it ultimately did not investigate the crime as they did not deem it serious enough. Sgt Damien Crews was fired when he admitted to accidentally leaving Cox’s door unlocked.

When it was over, the infirmary cleaned Dominguez’s wounds and glued them.

Dominguez said they were still bleeding two days later.

“I wanted to tell them to give me something for the pain, but no one understood me because I don't speak English and the people who treated me don't speak Spanish.”

The assault took place in the Alternative Living Unit (ALU) in Coffield Prison. The wing holds as many as 12 men in single cells for 22 hours a day and who are only moved if cuffed twice with a special anti-removal cuff box, and shackles. It is home to murderers, sex offenders, hard cases and escape artists.

It was the site of another assault three months prior. In that more serious attack it was guards who beat an inmate badly using their fists, a helmet and a boot, according to witnesses and TDCJ documents. The victim, a man named Kiheem Grant, was in a coma for more than three months and was given a one-in-four chance of surviving.

Thirteen guards were fired or resigned in the aftermath.

Thirteen guards from a Texas prison have been fired or resigned after the beating of an inmate that left him hospitalized — likely for the rest of his life. Several eyewitnesses along with former staff said staffing and training issues are leading to more violence. TDCJ denied the incident was due to staffing or training.

Inmates' recounting of the assault on Dominguez was slightly different. While they agree the fracas was short, it ended when Cox was released from a headlocking guard and voluntarily walked back into his cell. They questioned why Cox was not chemically subdued with mace, why he was not punished and how his cell could have been opened to begin with.

According to Stephenson and Dominguez, Cox was intentionally allowed to leave his cell by Sgt. Crews in order to attack another inmate who the sargeant did not like.

“The door was actually opened and unlocked for six hours undetected. That’s all I can really say concerning that,” said Cox in an email.

According to Cox, the fight was simply the result of two inmates not liking each other, who live in a high-stress environment.

But he was also cryptic and coy about the relationship of Crews to the assault.

“Understand, it’s [sic] just some things I can’t delve into on this one. You can read between the lines though. Fill in the blanks,” said Cox.

The rumor that has spread throughout the prison since the attack is that for some reason Crews wanted an inmate assaulted. None of the inmates who described this scenario were able to say how they knew this information.

They also said Crews had been arrested. This was not true, according to TDCJ. While Crews was suspended pending disciplinary action, there had not been an arrest.

Crews was terminated, he said, because some Coffield staff believed he orchestrated the attack.

“The person that took my I.D. and told me never to return — he implied that I set this assault up on purpose. And so I guess he just wanted me out of there,” said Crews.

Crews denied the allegation, questioning why he would risk his career so an inmate could attack another inmate.

“Absolutely not. I had no issues with any of these inmates,” he said.

In addition to it endangering inmates and fellow officers, he said it would have been a danger to himself.

Cox had been making threats against guards for months, since his friend Kiheem Grant was wheeled away from his cell in a wheelchair, comatose.

Harold Laird who lived in ALU for many years — but was moved in October — said he would be surprised if Crews was involved. More likely, he said, it was an accident.

“I've seen the doors get left unlocked multiple times. I had it happen to my door twice in the 19 + years I spent in there, and I know of maybe six other times it's happened,” he wrote in an email.

Crews told investigators this was an accident. In speaking with TPR, he said it was an accident driven by overwork and exhaustion. Coffield Unit is understaffed. Last year it saw as much as 60% of guard positions vacant. Staff shortages mean mandatory overtime.

Many inmates attributed the lag time for additional officers to show up to the staffing.

“It took officers over 10 minutes to respond! THAT'S SCARY!” wrote Cox. “Being this is supposed to be the most secure area in all of TDCJ prisons.”

For several months Crews had been trying to be removed from segregation units, which he said were very difficult and stressful.

“Like I'm exhausted and they promised to get me out of there,” he said.

Two months before the assault, Crews offered to take a demotion from sergeant (along with a pay cut) to go back to be a corrections officer outside of segregation.

“So they knew my exhaustions, my stress and my everything was high. And they just left me back there. And then this happened,” he said.

After the assault, Cox continued to make threats against Dominguez, saying he would escape again and go after the man.

But Dominguez remained just two cells, or about 10 feet, from Cox because the state said he did not voice his fear to investigators.

“The real question in my mind, is why are they still housing these two guys on the same cellblock?” asked Laird.

Dominguez told TPR he was terrified for his life. He said he believed TDCJ and Crews had wanted him attacked. He had trouble sleeping. He called friends and relatives asking for help. His family, who are Mexican nationals, reached out to the Mexican Consulate.

But he was not moved. And threats continued.

After TPR reached out to TDCJ officials inquiring about the decision, the state re-interviewed Dominguez and moved him to another prison.

“The truth is I feel more relaxed here,” Dominguez wrote “Because at least now I can sleep with both my eyes closed.”

Yvette Benavides contributed to this report.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org